Monday, July 07, 2008
Preparing to Vote...for U.S. News
Having just finished my third year at the University of Georgia, I'm very much looking forward to the prospect of getting tenure. For one reason only. Because if I'm lucky enough for it to happen, I will be a "most recently tenured" and therefore be eligible to vote for the US news rankings.
This is a big responsibility, I know. I want to be a responsible citizen of the greater law school community, and frankly, I haven't paid a whole lot of attention to the debates about the US News rankings. People seem to think it's screwed up, Leiter's got his thing, that's about all I know -- it does not affect my life much. But that might change. Sure, it's a few years away, but I'd better get ready.
So I went to the U.S. News site to see what I'm supposed to be voting on. It says here in Question #10 that we're supposed to rank from 1-5 the "quality" of the "program" for each school. As far as I can tell, that's the only guidance and criteria we get. Please, someone, who has actually done this before or has a copy of the questionnaire itself -- tell me we get more help than that. Bob Morse, U.S. News's methodology czar, are you out there? Can you help?
If that's all we get to go on -- evaluate the quality of each school's "program" -- what criteria are we supposed to use? As I see it, law schools have two fairly distinct "programs" -- the production of knowledge, and educating future lawyers. Which one should we evaluate? Both, and weight each program 50-50? How do we know? I'll take a first stab at this in the next post, but would welcome thoughts in the meantime.
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Ah, I remember being in your shoes a few years ago. For the past three years I was both the most recently tenured faculty member at my school and the chair of our appointments committee, which meant I got TWO votes in the U.S. News survey. And I remember blogging here about my confusion as to how anybody could do an even remotely responsible job at this. Frankly, I never figured out how to do this task well or objectively fairly. But good luck.
Oh, and expect to get even more glossy brouchures from various schools telling you about their fine speakers and faculty accomplishments. I mean, who doesn't love reading through lots and lots of those?
Finally, the University of Toledo has really excellent programs. Trust me.
Posted by: Joseph Slater | Jul 7, 2008 8:51:03 AM
I think it's every conscientious professor's duty to vote as absurdly as possible in this ranking. The system is horribly broken and only does a disservice to prospective law students and everyone else involved.
So you should either give everyone a 1 (on the theory that the law school educational process isn't really much of one at all for a whole variety of reasons that your friends with education backgrounds could tell you), everyone a 5 (on the theory that all law schools have incredibly talented faculty who come from the same five schools and thus the education must be equally awesome at every school), or, my favorite: take the current rankings, split them into five equal-sized groups, and give "reverse" quality rankings: Yale, Harvard, Stanford, etc. get 1's; whatever the "fourth-tier" schools are get 5's.
Is there any way, by the way, in which doing either one of these things is more irresponsible than attempting to actually give a numerical ranking to the 160 or so schools you've never been to?
Posted by: Jason Wojciechowski | Jul 7, 2008 11:52:00 AM
I think you're supposed to rate your school a "5", and all others "1".
Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Jul 7, 2008 11:54:44 AM
Thanks to all for comments. Previous Slater post on this topic can be found at http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2006/04/the_unbearable_.html -- one part that I think is particularly important (and under-observed as far as I can tell) is your observation that "the important part is not confirming what we're all already supposed to know, it's distinguishing among schools that are reasonably close in the rankings."
Though it seems obvious once you say it, my guess is most voters don't think about it and therefore don't make a real effort to do it.
Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 7, 2008 10:46:11 PM