Monday, March 17, 2014

My Law School Now Has a Better Totally Meaningless Number

My law school, the University of Nebraska, has received quite a bit of favorable publicity because of its rise in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. We’re now 54th, having risen 35 places in the last two years.

The University and the Dean are publicizing our new ranking; the local newspaper has noted it; we even got a favorable mention in the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog.

But, as people much smarter than me have pointed out (in more gentle language), the U.S. News rankings are crap. U.S. News takes a series of numbers that have little to do with the quality of legal education offered by a school, weights each of those numbers in a semi-random way, and produces a final number that’s as faulty as the inputs. But the mathematical mystery and precision lead some people to give it more credence than it deserves.

Those numbers were crap when my school was ranked significantly lower and they’re still crap now that my school’s ranking is higher. The reliability of an index doesn’t depend on how high or low one falls on that index.

I don’t blame my University or my Dean for promoting those numbers. We do have a great law school and they’re just trying to let people know that. Some potential students pay attention to those numbers, crap or not. I just wish there were some more reliable way to let people know how good my law school is—reading tea leaves or rolling dice, perhaps.

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