The Green Bag Asks: Your Law School (Really) Got Game?
posted by Paul Secunda
This year, my last, at Ole Miss Law School, I was asked to Chair an ad hoc faculty committee on law school rankings. Like many law schools, ours has been flustered by the seemingly arbitrary way that our school has fluctuated in the U.S. News & World Report yearly rankings. And like others, we wanted not to care about such capricious things, but alas, others (including prospective students, current students, and alumni to name a few) did care. So as an institution we (myself and four faculty committee members) set out to study the factors one by one and try to determine where we could change policies, add money, etc., to constructively move factors that we had some control over.
What struck me during last semester as the committee met on a bi-weekly basis was that some schools that were perpetually labeled elite (by being in the First Tier) really did not have that many prolific or productive scholars. On the other hand, the opposite was also true: many a Third and Fourth Tier (though certainly not all) were bustling with faculty activity and innovation. So what was going on? Why wasn’t any current ranking system capturing these characteristics of the law school market?
Though I have not figured out the answer to this question, Inside Higher Ed reports today that The Green Bag Journal plans to put law school’s extravagant claims about having the best and greatest faculties in the universe to the test:
On their Web sites and in the other marketing materials that law schools distribute to raise their profiles — sometimes derided as “law porn” — virtually every law school boasts of having a faculty made up of stellar scholars, brilliant teachers and selfless public servants. “We continue to add depth to our already diverse and multifaceted faculty — excellent teachers whose high-quality research impacts leading academic and public policy issues,” reads the Web site of Northwestern University’s law school . . . .
But how are applicants — for admission and/or jobs — to know whether the schools are living up to their promises on faculty quality, that all-important indicator of the institutions’ overall quality? asks the Green Bag, which describes itself as “an entertaining journal of law.” . . . .
The Green Bag plans to step into that breach, the journal announces in an editorial in its forthcoming issue. Starting this spring, it will begin work on the “Deadwood Report,” which it envisions being an annual assessment of “whether faculty members do the work that the law schools say they do.” The journal acknowledges that the ranking will provide “rough and admittedly partial” measures of law school faculty quality, but posits that by being transparent (it will disclose the sources of its data and how it derives its numbers and rankings from those data), and by bringing more information into public view, “it will help law school applicants make better decisions about where to study or work…. We are trying to do some good here.” (The editors have an ulterior motive, too: compelling law schools to make public better information about their operations — more on that later.)
What exactly will the Deadwood Report measure? Law schools, the editors write, “generally hold themselves out as institutions led by faculties whose members are committed to teaching, scholarship, and service.” They argue that the best teachers tend to be active scholars and vice versa, “and all the best lawyers of every stripe engage in service for the public good…. Evidence of the law schools’ commitment to this view is reflected in the practically universal requirement of high achievement in all three areas for tenure. And so we should be able to say with some confidence that a good law school will have a faculty consisting of hard-working teacher-scholar-humanitarians,” the Green Bag editorial says.
Count me as very intrigued by this idea which animates the Deadwood project. I hope it sheds light on those schools who are coasting on old reputations made, on schools stuck in institutional inertia, and on those that are breaking new ground and deserve a second look.
And maybe even Green Bag will start a law school dean bobblehead series based on its Deadwood Report.