New Law School Ratings Approach May Benefit Women

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Via Nancy Rapoport at Money Law and Brian Leiter, consider this article at Inside Higher Ed about a new approach to rating law schools that will be published by The Green Bag, and rather unsubtly called The Deadwood Report. (NB: For any reader who does not work in a law school, “deadwood” is the term often used to describe unproductive faculty members). From the Inside Higher Ed article:

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.

“The Deadwood Report will simply test the accuracy of that picture,”the journal’s editors write.”Our focus will be on the most dully objective of measures: whether the work is being done : whether each law school faculty member is teaching courses, publishing scholarly works, and performing pro bono service.” (The journal plans to start with teaching and research, turning only eventually to service, and notes that it does not plan :”at least not yet”: to answer what it calls the”trickier and more entertaining subjective questions: whether the teaching is effective, whether the scholarship is sound, whether the service is in the public interest.”)

The Green Bag‘s method for answering those questions sounds like it will be painstaking. Its staff (editor Ross E. Davies and research assistants) plan to:

  • Download a law school’s faculty Web pages, course catalogs, and publications lists.
  • Compile the data, with an emphasis on recent scholarship and recent teaching (“A school whose faculty is heavy with people who used to be active might do well in a citation or reputation study, but it will do poorly in the Deadwood Report”).
  • Analyze the data, using a still-to-be-finalized process of”sorting and weighting.”Basic principles:”We are interested in well-rounded, activie faculty members, and so we will give more weight to the moderately active teacher-writer than to the hyper-writer who neglects teaching or to the hyper-teacher who neglects writing.”Schools will also be rewarded for having well-rounded faculties, rather than a handful who are big-time scholars and a bunch of others who aren’t.
  • Send each school’s dean his or her institution’s preliminary results for a chance to correct inaccuracies.
  • Correct the errors and publish the results.

The journal’s editors offer some advice to law school deans, which offers additional evidence about their motives in joining the rankings game. Keep your Web sites up to date, since that is where all of the rankings’ information will come from.“This seems reasonable to us because your Web site is surely where most applicants and other inquisitive people go for information about your law school. If a school cannot be bothered to provide accurate information about the teaching, scholarship and service of its own faculty on its own Web site, it deserves to be haunted by any inaccuracies.”

“Puffery is double-edged,”the Green Bag warns. If a law school’s”faculty”page offers a long list of names, the journal’s editors will include and assess them all in the school’s”deadwood”numbers.”Inflated denominators will not be helpful to you,”the journal’s editorial says. “If you have employees who are employed to teach but not to write, or to write but not to teach,”or who once did one or both but no longer do, or who are on leave,”you might be well-served : and people visiting your Web site would certainly be better-informed : if you moved those folks off your list of”Faculty”and onto lists labeled, perhaps,”Instructors”and”Researchers”and”Emeriti”and”Administrators”and”On Leave.” (Visiting instructors will be treated differently.)

The full Green Bag description can be downloaded here.

If this initiative motivates law schools to clean up and demystify their websites, that alone would be an incredible service. I have often wondered what the deal was with some of the “faculty web pages” at U.S. law schools. Consider how impressively the Yale Law School’s faculty website, which is actually more informative than many law school websites, obfuscates the status of the folks teaching (or in some cases, NOT teaching) there. Who is tenured? Who is tenure track? Is everyone who is not listed as “on leave” teaching a full load? Or teaching a class at the law school at all? And see how long it takes you to figure out how many tenured women are currently on the YLS faculty. Not too many, huh? But the website design hides that fact pretty well.

Harvard Law School is one of the largest law schools in America. So does it have the one of the largest law school faculties? Well, 84 people are listed here, of which only 17 are women. Two of them I happen to know from firsthand, being their student experience, are among the finest lawprofs anywhere (that would be Lani Guinier and Elizabeth Warren), and I love the fact that HLS has a woman Dean, but sheesh, 17 out of 81 in 2008? And how many are “on leave” for the year or some portion thereof? In fairness, my own law school is being less than fully transparent when it lists 51 “full time” faculty members. Not everybody named is teaching a full four course load this year, or even regularly.

If law schools are motivated by this new approach to ratings to host more honest and informative websites, this may benefit women in several ways. First, it will make data collection easier, for the purposes of ascertaining how many tenure and tenure track women there are on a faculty. Second, it will draw attention to the high numbers of women in non-tenure track positions, relative to men. (See also). Third, if service is measured, there is a good possibility the data will demonstrate that female faculty members perform more service than males, and incentivize law schools to recognize and reward service more effectively.

–Ann Bartow

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