Sunday, June 10, 2012
This was the intriguing question asked by Mark Osler at Law School Innovation. He stated,
"Law schools across the country seem to share a common belief: That if their faculty publish more academic scholarship, and place it in better journals, then the U.S. News ranking of the school will improve. Schools have expended great time and expense on this project, and reshaped their faculties in pursuit of this goal. In hiring and at tenure review, most places view scholarship as being more important than teaching, in part for this reason. This belief has played a role not only in restructuring our institutions, but our values.
Is it a myth?
Looking back over several years of rankings, I have trouble identifying schools for whom this tactic was successful. After all, if scholarship can result in a long-term improvement in the rankings, shouldn't there be success stories?
So tell me-- where are they? What are the schools that managed, through increased scholarship rather that other factors, to significantly improve their rankings over the long-term (as opposed to brief jumps)?"
One comment stated: "Florida State, perhaps? The improvement (in rank--it was always a good school) might be due to other factors, but it seems that FSU engaged in a deliberate program of pumping up its scholarly profile right around the time it began to gain ground on Florida, with which it is now basically tied. It's possible that Alabama fits this profile, as well, but it's hard to isolate the causes without knowing the z-scores of each school on all of the factors for several years going back. They could have both just started spending a lot more money per pupil, which has its own (I think pernicious) influence on the US News rank."
Paul Caron suggested Pepperdine at his blog. However, a comment stated, "Without taking anything away from Pepperdine's impressive hires, I do not think the data support that this was the reason for Pepperdine's rankings rise. In your own annual look at peer assessment rankings vs. Overall US News rankings, Pepperdine's peer assessment significantly lags its overall ranking. if that were the only factor in the rankings, Pepperdine would now be ranked about 20-30 spots lower. I have not done a complete analysis, but I think their rise would be more closely tracked to employment statistics."
Osler's question is a very important one. Law schools spend a significant part of their budgets on encouraging scholarship. They also base much of their hiring decisions on who can improve a law school's scholarly reputation. Is this money being wasted when it can be better used elsewhere? Are law schools basing their hiring decisions on the wrong criteria?