Posted on April 8, 2014

Don’t Blame ‘Diverse’ Students for Your Poor U.S. News Rank

Elie Mystal, Above the Law, April 7, 2014

Law deans from schools that did poorly in the U.S. News law school rankings can’t stop making excuses for their schools.

Most of the excuses are comical, but none of them bother me quite like the “diversity argument.” The diversity argument claims that a school’s low ranking is somehow because of the school’s commitment to diversity.

If it were a good argument, it would be an offensive one to make. People who do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do shouldn’t go around begging for thanks and praise for doing the right thing. But suggesting that diversity is somehow antithetical to a strong U.S. News ranking isn’t even a good argument to begin with . . .

American University’s Washington College of Law fell from #56 to #72 in the latest U.S. News law school rankings. The school’s official response has already previewed their displeasure with the U.S. News refusal to take WCL’s diversity into account:

The same publication provides a diversity index that is not factored into their law school ranking, despite the central importance of diversity on the depth and quality of a legal education in particular. AUWCL ranks near the top of this index as one of the most diverse law schools in the country, yet our U.S. News rank fails to take into account, in any form whatsoever, this important and valuable distinction.

Tony Varona, WCL’s Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs, takes the argument even further in the NYU Review of Law & Social Change:

The U.S. News ranking methodology ignores student diversity altogether in calculating the rankings. It treats a law school with little diversity as virtually indistinguishable from a very diverse school where pedagogically rich exchanges like those above abound.

For a variety of reasons, the average underrepresented minority student tends to have lower GPA and LSAT scores–the myopic academic credentials that U.S. News “counts”–than his or her White, nonminority counterpart. So, it is easy to see how schools that trade student diversity for higher numbers tend to move up in the U.S. News ranks. By contrast, schools that refuse to sacrifice diversity pay a big U.S. News price for pursuing what most educators agree is best for all our students. U.S. News actually rewards less diverse schools for admitting less diverse classes, and altogether ignores the clear learning advantages at the more diverse schools.

Bullshit. It’s one thing to say that U.S. News should consider diversity in its overall law school rankings. There are lots of things people think U.S. News should consider. {snip}

But suggesting that U.S. News is punishing schools for being diverse is another thing entirely. U.S. News punishes schools for attracting people with low academic credentials. There are lots of minorities and women with high LSAT scores and GPAs. American’s problem is that those students don’t want to go to American. Maybe if American spent more time trying to attract high-scoring minorities and less time insulting the minorities who are there by bemoaning the school’s “sacrifice” in their name, things would be better for WCL.

{snip} American only ranks 30th on the diversity index anyway. {snip}

{snip} A minority WCL student makes this point to the administration:

In fact, WCL ranks 31st on the diversity index. Cornell University ranks first, and is ranked 13th on the list of “Best Law Schools”. Stanford is 19th on the diversity index, and third on the overall ranking. Columbia is 28th on the diversity index, and fourth overall. UC Hastings, USC Gould, UC Berkley, the University of Maryland, and UC Davis also bested American in both diversity and overall ranking. WCL is not even the most diverse school that shares the ranking of 72nd overall–that distinction belongs to the University of New Mexico, 22nd on the diversity index. (Go, Lobos!)

Boom. Debate over. We see that there are a bunch of schools with “better” diversity than American that also do better than American in the rankings. There are also schools with better diversity than American who do a lot worse than American in the U.S. News rankings. You can be a highly ranked “diverse” school, or a poorly ranked “diverse” school: American should try harder to be the former instead of bitching that its the latter.