Private Accrediting: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em
US News’ rankings are exerting powerful influences over law school practices, in areas like admissions (and presumably hiring and promotion of faculty, to enhance reputation scores). They’re beginning to look like an accrediting agency that operates parallel to the ABA. US News arguably sets benchmarks for such areas as admissions, faculty-student ratios, and library size.
(Jeffery Stake’s article “The Interplay Between Law School Rankings, Reputations, and Resource Allocation” and posts like this one by Brian Leiter explore how US News is affecting (or might affect) class size and other admissions decisions. My (admittedly impressionistic) sense is that a great many law schools are bending their behavior to US News factors.)
In the spirit of “If you can’t beat them, join them,” maybe what we should be doing is lobbying US News to change the factors that count in their rankings. Perhaps, for example, we should encourage US News to take diversity of student body into account. If US News gave (even small credit) for diversity, perhaps it would cause (major) shifts in law schools’ admissions decisions. I wonder if US News is already poised to do this? In 2005 they began publishing a diversity index, but it doesn’t yet count towards a school’s overall rank.
I’ll leave aside self-serving changes to the US News factors, like taking faculty salary into account, which the ABA is no longer able to do. And, related to the ABA’s problems with collection of salary data, you may remember that antitrust is an area where law schools have behaved, well, rather surprisingly, as Thomas Lambert and Royce de Rohan Barondes point out. I think you’ll enjoy their article.
(The illustration is Margo Humphrey’s Pulling Your Own Strings, from the Paul Jones Collection at the University of Delaware. I think it fits with the theme of this post, about law schools trying to take control of our destiny by working with US News, even as we’re subject to “regulation” by them.)