Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Monday, March 16, 2015
Last week, a website, USNews.com, released its annual rankings of law and other professional schools. (Since I was off-line last week, my comments had to wait.) Commentary, predictably, focused on the overall rank assigned by the website--what is known to "insiders" as the "nonsense number," since it is the upshot of an inexplicable weighting of 12 different factors, many self-reported and so of dubious accuracy anyway, but the amalgamation basically stipulative. Fortunately for USNews.com, many superficial journalists report the nonsense number, and changes in the nonsense number, as though they meant something.
So, for example, much ink was spilled on the "fact" that the University of Michigan Law School had a nonsense number of 11th, just outside "the top ten" where it usually resides. I did not see any journalist note, however, that just one raw score point (83 vs. 84) separated Michigan from Duke, Virginia, and Berkeley, all with a nonsense number of 8th. In other words, even by its own terms, the USNews.com demotion of Michigan to 11th was meaningless. (For those paying attention, Yale, because of its off-the-charts per capita expenditures, got a raw score of 100, Harvard and Stanford got 96, Columbia and Chicago 93, NYU 89, Penn 88, and then Duke et al. with 84.)
The most interest was in the nonsense number for UC Irvine, ranked for the first time this year. UCI came in at #30, the highest nonsense number debut I've ever seen in USNews.com. In USNews.com land, this puts UCI third in the UC system--behind Berkeley and UCLA, and ahead of UC Davis (31st) and UC Hastings (59th). (Hastings has probably been the most dramatic victim, over many years, of the small, private school bias in the USNews.com rankings.) Interestingly, UCI got this result despite weaker reputational scores: 29th in reputation among lawyers/judges (a rather good result, though, for a new school), and only 42nd among academics. Almost every school with a nonsense number around UCI had a higher academic reputation score, and my guess is UCI's will now improve accordingly. (The evidence for the echo chamber effect of the "overall rank" on the reputation scores in subsequent yeras is even greater now than in the past.) My guess is all those annoyed by the UC system starting a new law school penalized UCI in the reputational survey--if USNews.com published the median and mode, we'd have some idea, but I wouldn't be surprised if the distribution was skewed in that way. Counting against UCI is that it is still very small, and will presumably have to grow, which may affect other metrics.
USNews.com reported some curious data in various categories. I note two examples. Columbia, for the first time, reported the best student-faculty ratio in the nation: 6.3 to 1. Yale was 7.6/1, Stanford 7.3/1. Virginia reported 97.3% employed at graduation, but only 97% nine months out. This might be an artifact of the fact that USNews.com for the first time did not give schools full credit for graduates in law school funded positions--though many of these positions are quite legitimate.
The USNews.com reign of terror has now been going on for 25 years. It has been a disaster for legal education, though a boon for students with the favored numbers. In the 1990s, I used to try to reason with the USNews folks, and they in fact corrected some of their worst mistakes--for example, using starting salary data without taking into account regional differences; doing reputation surveys based on "quartiles" (meaning the dumbest evaluator--the one who forgot to put Harvard in the top quartile--determined the score); and failing to adjust expenditures for cost-of-living differences. But with regard to the basic problems--namely, that the weightings of the inputs are arbitrary, and that a lot of the data relied upon is bogus--they've done nothing. The only remedy for the USNews.com reign of terror will be competing systems, though hopefully not ones that simply replicate the USNews.com mistakes, though that is mostly what we have had so far.
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
For the first time in a half-century, the Encyclopedia Britannica has commissioned a new essay on "Philosophy of Law," written by myself and a former student, Michael Sevel, now at the University of Sydney. Hopefully ours will have a half-century run as well!
Friday, March 6, 2015
...at least for me, though my co-blogger Dan Filler may have some items. I'm also recuperating (alas) from another outpatient eye surgery for my on-going retinal detachment issues. I will probably get back on the blog the week of March 23 at the latest, though may have one or two items in the interim.
March 6, 2015 | Permalink
Thursday, March 5, 2015
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Many readers have mentioned Prof. Steven Calabresi's rather impassioned and personal defense of Justice Scalia, for whom he clerked, against a recent critical biography by Bruce Murphy. My colleague Justin Driver made some similar points in The New Republic, and it does seem the biography in question is unfair to Justice Scalia on several points. But while Prof. Calabresi repeatedly chides Murphy for mean-spiritedness and pettiness, the latter charge seems to apply equally well to Calabersi's surprisingly score-settling rejoinder, in which various conservative politicans and legal officials (from Kenneth Starr to William Reynolds) are dismissed as mediocrities and lightweights (I'm happy to believe Prof. Calabresi is right, however). But Prof. Calabresi's polemics against Judge Posner and Judge Wilkinson are curious and rather unseemly. Particularly amusing is his diatribe against Richard Posner, which includes this observation:
The relationship between Posner and Scalia is affectionate on Scalia’s side but filled with envy, pettiness, and anger on Posner’s side, at least in my opinion. Posner is the author of more than forty books, countless law review articles, and countless judicial opinions. I think he feels that he was far more successful as a law professor and a founder of law and economics than Scalia was when he taught at the University of Chicago School of Law.
"Envy, pettiness and anger"? I think anyone who knows Judge Posner will find this a rather implausible explanation. Judge Posner has had scholarly polemics with many people, including some of his best friends, and I've never seen him to take any of it "personally." But I'm quite puzzled by Prof. Calabresi's comment that, "I think [Posner] feels that he was far more successful as a law professor and a founder of law and economics than Scalia was when he taught at the University of Chicago Law School." "I think"? Isn't it obviously true? Being on the Supreme Court has made Justice Scalia's views far more influential than he ever was as a legal scholar. Prof. Calabresi, who worked in several Republican Administrations in Washington and was involved with SCOTUS nominations, says:
When Posner’s name did come up [in connection with SCOTUS vacancies), which was rarely, it was so that we could laugh about his immoral and politically fatal proposal to reform adoption law by legalizing the selling of babies. Posner was not respected by any of the last three Republican Administrations. He was the butt of a joke.
I suppose only in the insider world of the American far right could one think that reporting that "Posner was not respected by any of the last three Republican Administrations" counts against Judge Posner, rather than as (yet) another badge of merit.
As I said, curious.
Monday, March 2, 2015