U.S. News Ranking Discounts Diversity

anthony varonaYou’ve written that GPAs and LSAT scores are “myopic academic credentials.” Could you further explain what you mean by that? 

​I meant only that although they are important and relevant indicators, they are inexact ones that we must evaluate in their proper context. A 3.7 from an English major at University X may not really be equivalent to the same GPA from a Biochemical Engineering major from College Y. Similarly, a 158 LSAT from a White middle-class suburban male student from Colorado may not be comparable to a 158 from an immigrant, working class Latina student for whom English is a second language and who worked her way through college. These are the tough discernments that our admissions committee makes throughout the admissions season.  But these nuances are altogether absent in U.S. News‘ rankings methodology, which treats entering GPAs and LSATs as comparable across the board.

It’s also important to understand that although LSAT scores purport to predict success in the first year of law school, they have not been especially successful at doing so and are almost entirely useless in predicting success beyond the first year and into practice.  

Do you think GPAs and LSAT scores should simply count for less in the ranking, or would you replace them with other credentials?

​I would just like to see the U.S. News methodology be more accurate and reflective of academic quality in the fullest sense of that term—and namely, by incorporating student diversity into the mix. If U.S. News were to allot, say, just five out of the 100 possible quality points to student diversity, then of course a portion of  those points would have to come from other quantified metrics in the methodology, but I doubt that the combined weight of average GPA and LSAT—now  ​almost a quarter of the overall ranking—would be reduced significantly.

Do you think U.S. News has a responsibility to modify the way it ranks law schools? 

​Absolutely.​ For better or worse, the U.S. News law school rankings have become the most influential annual rating of law schools in the nation. By not reflecting student diversity in their rankings, they fail to deliver on their promise to readers to assess the relative academic quality of law schools. But what’s worse is that their rankings methodology has gone as far as to alter—for the worse—the academic environment in our nation’s law classrooms. 

That U.S. News ​hinders the admission of diverse students is not the only serious problem in the rankings methodology. It has been amply documented that some law schools have drastically manipulated their transfer admissions practices in order to ​(artificially) boost or hold on to their U.S. News rankings—admitting far fewer​, ​and incidentally less diverse, ​1Ls, only later to admit an enormous number of transfer students as 2Ls, with far lower average GPAs and LSAT scores. The 1L credentials “count” for U.S. News rankings purposes, whereas transfer credentials are ignored by U.S. News. So, a student who relies on the impressive U.S. News ranking of a particular school might not realize that the average quantitative credentials of her classmates in Years 2 and 3 are drastically different than those advertised for the first year. It’s a bit of a bait-and-switch.

What can law schools collectively do to lessen the hold the ranking has on their decisions? 

​We can and should continue to talk about the flaws and dangers inherent in the U.S. News rankings, advocate reform, and urge caution to the magazine’s readers. For many years legal academics turned our backs to the U.S. News rankings. There was a sense that even negative criticism of the rankings would serve to acknowledge and validate them. Now that the insidious results of the rankings on law schools and current and future law students and lawyers—and society itself—are in stark relief, we do not have the luxury of staying silent.​