Should Diversity Be Added to Best Law Schools Rankings?

The debate on how to measure diversity success at law schools increases.

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U.S. News recently received a letter from The State Bar of California asserting that our main Best Law Schools rankings would be improved by including numerous diversity-related measures.

This new diversity category would include indicators measuring the degree to which a law school's student body is ethnically diverse, possibly relative to state-wide demographic data. One indicator would be a determination of whether law schools had taken "concrete actions," via programs and activities committed to diversity that are aligned with the "ABA Accreditation Standards on Diversity" (Standard 212).

U.S. News was urged to poll diversity professionals at law schools on diversity reputation or include diversity as a category on our existing reputation surveys. Finally, the letter also recommends that these new diversity variables count for a total of 15 percent of a law school's overall score and that the weights of the existing peer surveys and student selectivity (admissions data) be reduced.

U.S. News doesn't incorporate our current diversity index or diversity into the Best Law Schools rankings, because measuring how successful law schools are at achieving diversity goals cannot be included easily in our rankings formula in a fair and meaningful way. The current U.S. News diversity index does not measure how successful law schools are at achieving diversity standards against a benchmark; rather, it measures to what extent a law school is diverse.

There are many key questions that need to be resolved. For example, U.S. News would need to determine what scale would be used to measure diversity success for each law school. How should law schools be compared in ethnically diverse states like California and Florida with those in far less diverse states like Vermont and Iowa? Should Stanford University and the University of Southern California, both private law schools, be measured against the same scale as public schools in California like UCLA?

How should diversity at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and North Carolina Central University law schools, which are part of the historically black colleges and universities, be measured? Should diversity just be based on ethnic diversity and not take into account economic diversity? How would law school economic diversity be measured? We also need to consider what the law schools themselves think about including diversity in the rankings.

Yet another important issue is to what degree diversity is linked to academic quality versus being an important social goal. There is also the key question of whether diversity should even be included in the rankings, given that the main purpose of the rankings is to identify the best schools academically.

I spoke with Craig Holden, a partner at Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith and chair of the Council on Access & Fairness for The State Bar of California, who was the catalyst behind the proposal to U.S. News, and told him that U.S. News was willing to have further discussions so we could determine the feasibility of the suggestions.

In addition, U.S. News would need to work with a representative group of legal educators and others to develop such diversity success yardsticks. We cannot do it without outside assistance and some meaningful level of agreement on the right things to measure and the correct metrics to use to measure them.

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