Sunday, April 3, 2022
Remember Thanksgiving when you were a kid? The adults sat at one table with endless access to the stuffing and gravy while you sat with your cousins wondering why the potatoes never got to you. The kids’ table was a fixture, but when I was middle school age, I was certain I should be allowed to join the adults and enjoy the power of the serving spoon. Perhaps Academic Support has entered that part of our growth as well.
The 2023 Best Law Schools list was recently published by U.S. News & World Report. In determining these rankings, U.S. News looks at numerous factors in determining how and where schools are listed. According to U.S. News, they, “evaluate institutions on their successful placement of graduates, faculty resources, academic achievements of entering students, and opinions by law schools, lawyers and judges on overall program quality.” From time to time the importance and proportional value of the various criteria are tweaked. This year, for example, the value of Bar Passage was increased, with U.S. News noting that, “[a] key change for the 2023 edition involved U.S. News more comprehensively assessing the bar passage rates of first-time test takers. “ The actual overall value this year was 0.03 as opposed to previous years when it was 0.0225. This doesn’t seem like a big change in the scheme of math but consider that bar passage is valued more than the acceptance rate, student-faculty ratio, and debt at graduation.
The U.S. News rankings also include programs within law schools in the areas of (among others): Business/Corporate Law, Clinical training, Constitutional Law, Contracts/Commercial law, Dispute Resolution, Legal Writing, and Trial Advocacy. Academic support is neither considered in the overall rankings nor ranked independently as a program.
Just to be clear, I don’t like rankings: I even volunteered to be on a subcommittee that is examining our internal student ranking system. Yet, I understand that without a very complicated mathematical algorithm based on a long list of both objective and subjective criteria, law schools cannot brag, fundraise, um, see how we are doing overall. I get it: law schools need a way to be assessed.
But here’s the rub: I am a parent of a child with learning issues who had an IEP all the way from kindergarten through to college. They were “othered” by going to the learning center, they were sometimes bullied, and they came home feeling that they were intellectually inadequate often especially in the middle school years. I spent a lot of time explaining to her how school only measured certain types of intelligence while overlooking many others. Howard Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences was something we could both cite over the years to remind ourselves that school assessment isn’t the sum of who we are.
In the same way that schools tend to only assess a very limited number of student intelligences, I would argue that ignoring Academic Support Programs in ranking law schools similarly overlooks something important. Even worse, by assessing the consequential outcomes of good Academic Support programs--like employment rates and most obviously first-time bar passage rates--without looking at ASP itself means that ASP professionals are truly the unseen factotum in law schools. We are taxed without being represented because all the things ASP touches are considered or ranked, but ASP programs are not considered in any part of the formula.
There are, of course, some major downsides to having ASP ranked or considered in ranking without more job security (like tenure!). I wouldn’t want to outsource my yearly work evaluations to U.S. News especially if I had a contract that was up for renewal frequently (or worse yet, not have one at all). Nor would I want to be assessed based on criteria that I cannot control, like admissions decisions. Like all coins, this one has two sides.
And yet, wouldn’t it be nice to sit at the adult table sometimes?
 Where she is a junior who is regularly on the Dean’s List (my bragging).
 This is a real word. And so much fun! https://www.dictionary.com/browse/factotum
 Since my law school is located in Boston, this is a required complaint.