A Voter Aptitude Test for U.S. News Law Rank Voters?
Professors are ablog about the U.S. News ballots recently arrived in law school mailrooms around the country. At Moneylaw, rankings guru Tom Bell (Chapman Law) relates interesting news of possible voting irregularities in the academic reputation balloting — with individuals other than deans, associate deans, recruiting chairs and most-recently-tenured profs receiving ballots even though they aren’t supposed to be U.S. News voters. At Prawfs, Jason Solomon (Georgia) reminds voters they are supposed to be assessing schools’ quality, rather than reputation.
Solomon explains that the ballots task voters to “Identify the law schools you are familiar with, and then rate the academic quality of their J.D. program at each of these schools.”
One of the remarkable aspects of this charge is that voters are asked to identify the schools they are “familiar” with, and rank only those schools. One wonders how many ballots contain “un-ranked” schools. That is, do voters really decline to rank programs they don’t know much about? Sure, you know the schools you went to, that you fight with over recruits, and you might have a single conference or blogging pal on the faculties of any number of schools. You might vote high on schools you like or went to, low on those which sport unpleasant types, and of course “game” the system by giving your own school a “5″ and its rivals a “1.” But my guess is, for the vast majority of voters for the vast majority of the nation’s two-hundred law schools, any knowledge they have is at best a fleeting snapshot of a far more robust J.D. program.
U.S. News could easily purge the ignorance from this system by subjecting voters to a “familiarity” test. In order to have votes for particular schools count, for instance, voters could be required to name at least two (or three) active faculty members at the school, or provide some other mildly accurate indicator of quality or lack thereof (“sub-80% bar passage”; “Roger Williams top 50 outside of the top 50 ranked faculty”; etc.). If voters can’t come up with a name for a single faculty member or relevant indicator of quality, or be bothered to look one up on google, then they could select “Ignorant” with respect to a particular school.
To be sure, the fact that no one knows about a particular school might tell us something relevant. It might tell us that the school’s faculty could be more prominent, oriented out of the building, etc. Or it might tell us nothing — that the voter simply has never encountered any meaningful point of reference for a school that doesn’t get to the NCAA final four or the BCS bowls and is located 2500 miles away. U.S. News could do us a favor by reporting not just the mean ranking a school receives, but also the pecentage of voters who selected “Ignorant” for each of the “ranked” schools. If 80% of voters are “ignorant” about the quality of the University of West Dakota law school, that might be more noteworthy than that the school — like so many others — ended up with a mean peer assessment somewhere in the 2.0 – 2.5 range.
Then again, I’m still waiting for someone to put a law rankings ballot up for sale on ebay.