« The unraveling of the grand coalition on free trade? | Main | Eastman v. Roman on Birthright Citizenship »

Sunday, March 13, 2011


My name is Michael Waterstone, and I teach and am one of our associate deans at Loyola Law School Los Angeles.  Thanks to Dan and the rest of the crew for having me back.  

I certainly do not consider myself a US News rankings "deep thinker."  But in this post, before the new US News rankings come out this week, I wanted to get on my high horse about something.   This is a point my Dean, Victor Gold, has helped me realize.  The rankings do not currently include diversity as a factor in how they evaluate law schools (although they have done a stand-alone diversity ranking).  On the merits, this seems crazy to me – there is pretty broad consensus that diversity is an important part of the educational experience. 

I have heard two responses: first, that it is difficult to calculate diversity because of the different background populations in the geographic region where schools reside; and second, this would disadvantage schools in less diverse parts of the country.   As to the first point, although I am no statistician, I don't buy it.  US News has as standalone diversity ranking, indicating it can be calculated.  And US News is able to include bar passage rates as part of its survey and there are different passage rates in different states.

As to the second point, even assuming it is true that including diversity would disadvantage schools in certain regions, I guess my response is – who cares?  I’m not naïve – I realize the rankings exist to sell magazines, not to be accurate in any meaningful measure.  But the rankings are not “neutral” – they use all kinds of factors that advantage some schools over others – primarily money.  So if diversity is meaningful to the educational experience (and thus something that prospective students should look for), how can it not be justified as a factor by which US News ranks schools?

I am a member of the California State Bar Council on Access and Fairness, and we have been engaged in a public dialogue with Bob Morse at US News on this issue.  I hope we are able to make some progress.  

Posted by Michael Waterstone on March 13, 2011 at 11:14 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Hello:


So let me understand this. You agree in principle that "diversity" should include more than race. But, gosh darn it, it is just so much harder to measure stuff like philosophical, socio-economic, and geographic diversity than self-reported racial criteria. So lets just have the racial criteria and not any of that other stuff.

Forgive the cynic who does not trust you. It would surely be as easy for a school to ask for self-reporting of political philosophy as self-reporting of race. And geography and social-economic status are far easier to objectively verify than race and ethnicity. The only reason it seems to never even occur to you is because you have not devoted one minute of effort to that project, whereas you have been passionately devoted to trying to getting race into the US News rankings. Again, forgive the cynic who thinks all this is a smokescreen for a slippery slope to racial balancing and nothing else (well, maybe other liberal hobby horses like disability quotas, too).

Posted by: anon | Mar 16, 2011 6:51:09 PM

This post clearly stirred some strong feelings; thanks for all of the comments. Rick explains (with the eloquence I have grown to expect from him) his view that diversity within legal education is a good thing, although it is often too narrowly defined. I don't disagree with that. Taking ideological diversity, I have taught a law school which had a significant presence of conservative students and faculty; I enjoyed teaching in that intellectually diverse environment very much. I must confess to not having any great insights about how to calculate, for US News purposes, these notions of diversity, including socioeconomic, geographic, and other factors. The US News Diversity rankings, to my understanding, try to identify law schools where students are most likely to encounter classmates from a different racial or ethnic group. Although this is not a perfect measure (I personally think disability should be included), I disagree with many of the commenters who feel that this is worthless or even harmful. I don't view race as irrelevant, and think that racial diversity in legal education—for students as well as faculty-- is important. I also do not think diversity can simply be dismissed as shorthand for racial balancing. Although considering diversity solely through a prism of looking at certain racial groups may not be perfect, I think that in and of itself is a worthwhile pedagogical and societal goal. On this, at least a majority of the Supreme Court and most law faculties (at least using statements on web sites as a proxy for values) agree with me.

Posted by: Michael Waterstone | Mar 16, 2011 5:52:13 PM

It is impossible to assess this claim without knowing, inter alia, (a) what kind(s) of diversity you are contemplating, (b) how that diversity would be measured, (c) how heavily you would weight the factor, (d) what existing factor(s) you would deemphasize, and (e) what information you believe this would communicate, the audience you have in mind, and the behavior you are seeking to encourage by establishing and weighing the factor as you would be recommending.

P.S. I am not sure there is such a thing as a "US News rankings 'deep thinker'," so I wouldn't worry about sliding into that category.

P.P.S. You say "US News has as standalone diversity ranking, indicating it can be calculated." That does not follow.

Posted by: Ani | Mar 15, 2011 5:40:58 PM

It would certainly be useful to have a measure of how many students admitted with diversity in mind manage to graduate and pass the bar, rather than just matriculate. We know at some schools the data for African Americans is atrocious, but we don't which ones. We surely don't want white students benefiting from diversity at the expense of African American students who devote huge resources to a fruitless venture. I'm sure Dean Waterstone in his next post will provide us with graduation and bar passage rates for Loyola broken down by ethnicity, so that future applicants can make informed choices.

Posted by: David Bernstein | Mar 15, 2011 8:06:57 AM

So it falls to me to play the bad cop. I too second Rick's sentiments, but I don't agree with his labeling strategy. Lets be plain: "diversity" is a euphemism for racial balancing, and everyone knows it.

Conservatives now hope to co-opt the label, but make diversity about having different philosophical viewpoints. My reply: give it up. The whole point of a euphemism is to exploit a politically ignorant and lazy public to effectuate elite policy preferences without the political blowback. "Diversity" polls well; "racial balancing" does not. If conservatives jump aboard the diversity train, what the liberal elites in the Cal Bar and academia will do is take the public relations boost--A "broad consensus" in favor of "diversity"!--and then implement only their conception of what diversity is: racial balancing.

Posted by: anon | Mar 14, 2011 11:41:37 PM

Yes, I second Mr. Garnett and I hope my comment did not come off as hostile.

Posted by: GU | Mar 14, 2011 11:07:58 PM

Michael, thanks for the post. Like you, I am of the view that legal education "works" better if it takes place in a community that is meaningfully and enrichingly diverse. Like some of the other commenters, though, I worry that, sometimes, we reduce the "diversity" that enhances legal education to reported ethnic and racial backgrounds, or to gender. At the same time, it is hard to know how, exactly, we would go about identifying, admitting, and recruiting students (and faculty) who would enrich legal education through philosophical, ideological, socio-economic, and geographic diversity. Any ideas?

Also, I wonder what you think of the point that John Garvey emphasized, during his tenure as the AALS President, namely, that legal education and the profession benefit from *institutional* pluralism -- that is, from the contributions of particularly institutions that might not, "internally", be "diverse" in the usual ways?

Thanks again.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Mar 14, 2011 10:18:11 PM

"there is pretty broad consensus that diversity is an important part of the educational experience"

A consensus? A broad consensus? Did 4 dissenting Supreme Court justices, most of the Republican party, and the voters who banned AA in California (hardly the reddest of states) and a bunch of other states somehow fall through a giant crack in the earth? A broad consensus within the liberal legal academy--now that is more like it.

Posted by: anon | Mar 14, 2011 6:06:15 PM

Yes, diversity is valuable, but we need to dig deeper than the five "races" (White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American). Most obvious is socio-economic background. I happened to attend one of the most racially diverse law schools in the nation; it had lots of non-white folks, but nearly all of my classmates (of all races) came from upper-middle-class families. My classmates and I were raised in a diverse array of rich neighborhoods and suburbs of the nation's large, élite cities!

More carefully examining racial categories should also be a priority. Take whites for example. There are tons of Jews and WASPy-types in law school. These persons have quite different lives from the children of recent eastern European immigrants, whites of Mediterranean heritage, and Middle-Eastern whites. Similarly, "native" blacks tend to have quite different lives than the descendants of (recent) African or Caribbean immigrants. I could go on.

So if we're going to focus on diversity, let's really focus on diversity and eschew crude racial balancing that doesn't take into account attributes that actually contribute to a diverse student population.

Posted by: GU | Mar 14, 2011 1:34:02 PM

I assume "diversity" means primarily "race" in this context. The race card is already given too much weight in our modern society. I am all for diversity, but true diversity extends way beyond race to things that are looked at less often as a proxy for "diversity" - such as socioeconomic status. What about "diversity" in terms of political affiliation? At least at my law school, 75% or more of the students and 95% or more of the faculty seem to lean to the extreme left. So, if you mean "diversity" in a very broad sense of the word (including socioeconomic status, political affiliation, etc.), then I am all for it. But if you plan to platonify diversity - and just encourage schools to give more handouts to diverse students and faculty - some of whom are offended by the double standards, and virtually all of whom suffer from back end judgment that they would not have been at the school but for their race -then I strongly hope that "diversity" does not become part of the rankings.

Posted by: juli | Mar 13, 2011 11:35:40 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.