Saturday, June 02, 2007

Tail Wagging Again

I understand this is all old news. Increasingly law school operations are designed to ensure that the schools perform well in the USN&WR rankings whether or not it means improving or even maintaining the substantive quality of the school. (Was it Billy Crystal who used to say, "It's not how you feel, it's how you look."?) I raise the issue again because of the superb way Jeffrey Stake captures the problem in this excerpt from the abstract to his article on what I have referred to as another example of the tail wagging the dog:

"A more serious problem is the effect of US News rankings on the operation of law schools and students who desire admission. The rankings have created incentives for students who want to be lawyers to go to schools that have grade inflation and take easy courses at those schools. The US News rankings have created incentives for schools to teach to the bar exam, spend money on glossy publications, raise tuition, increase the number of transfer students, and admit students according to their bubble ability (their aptitude for taking multiple-choice standardized exams) rather than their prospects for contributing to the learning environment at the law school or their prospects for becoming effective and responsible lawyers."

Personally, I am not all that receptive to arguments that USN&WR made law schools and administrators lose their way. In fact, in a move that says way to much about the character of law schools, they seemed to have rolled over for the publishers of USN&WR. One wonders what someone with the courage of a Chesterfield Smith would have done or said about kowtowing to a magazine.

On the other hand, the pressures are enormous and the administrators of a law school that slips in the rankings, regardless of the reason, may be faced by unhappy students, professors, and alums. I am not sure I know how they can "win," unless they act in unison. (If you are thinking prisoner's dilemma and all that, you get my drift.) Suppose the administration of a state law school, in order to please those groups, went all out and admitted students only on the basis of GPA and LSAT. It's particularly ironic that some alums who might favor such a move are willing to pull up the ladder that enabled many of them to go to go to law school. And, can you imagine the outcry among faculty if students were admitted "on the numbers" alone.

So how does a law school get entering students out of the pool that USN&WR counts while admitting basically the same students. The ways mentioned in the press so far include making many of them part time, admitting them in the summer, and reducing the size of first year classes while making up the difference with transfer students.

In this escalating system, do all schools have to go through these machinations in order just to hold their places? How about a cease fire and everyone holds the ground now occupied?

[Now I have a completely unrelated sports question. Suppose the first draft pick in the NBA goes to the team with the worse record. Two teams are tied for this and play each other in the final game. Each team tries to lose and does so by shooting at the other team's goal. I think it becomes a regular game only the goals are reversed. (Or is it simply a miss if I sink one in the other team's goal?) If this is right so far, how does the 3 pointer work? Could one team make a 3 pointer for the other team?]


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