U.S. News Debates Law Schools over Adding Diversity to Rankings

We challenge law schools to come up with standards for how diversity should be measured.

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I represented U.S. News at an early November 2011 meeting at St. John's School of Law in New York that was titled Opening Doors: Making Diversity Matter in Law School Admissions.

The symposium discussed that:

[L]aw school admissions of students of color, especially African American and Mexican American candidates, have been on the decline. The work of Columbia University Law School Professor Conrad Johnson through the Society of American Law Schools (SALT) shows that despite an increase of 3,000 additional seats in new ABA-approved law schools, few of these new seats have gone to minority law school applicants. During the same period of time, candidates of color have improved their LSAT scores and overall GPAs, making them more attractive applicants, yet their "shut out rate"—rejections from all of the schools to which they applied—is significantly higher than white candidates."

I was one of speakers on the "Closing Plenary: Reforming U.S. News Rankings to Include Diversity" panel, which discussed many of the issues pertaining to whether U.S. News should add a measure of diversity directly into the Best Law Schools rankings. I pointed out that U.S. News believes diversity is important and that is why we all ready publish a separate law school diversity index.

Our current index identifies law schools where law students are most and least likely to encounter classmates from a different racial or ethnic group. However, the current index does not measure how successful each law school is at meeting a diversity goal or benchmark at the school, state, local, or national level. It also gives schools enrolling one ethnic group a low score, though that school's enrollment may match its state's ethnic population or the school may be a Historically Black College or University. It's for these reasons the current index would not be appropriate to add into the rankings.

Among the reasons why U.S. News doesn't have diversity included in the law school rankings methodology is that there is not an agreement among law schools of the definition of diversity or how it should be measured. For example, is diversity just referring to ethnicity, or should it include income and/or geographic diversity?

In terms of ethnic diversity, should the population standard that a law school be measured against be national if it's a private and at the state level if it's public? How should income diversity be measured? What age of the population should be used? Another key factor is that U.S. News does not want our rankings to be part of the ongoing public policy debate of how to achieve diversity goals at law schools or other parts of higher education.

Many of the speakers and the audience thought that diversity should be added directly into the rankings so law schools would no longer have the goal of maintaining or improving in our rankings as a reason for not accepting a more diversified entering J.D. class by taking students with lower LSATs and GPAs.

I noted that, given the complexity of all the decisions and issues that need to be resolved in terms of creating a more sophisticated and credible diversity rating, U.S. News would need active involvement from the law schools for such a new analysis to be both successful and accepted. 

U.S. News has an open offer to meet with an advisory group formed by any of the law school associations—such as the ABA, AALS, NALP, and LSAC—to work on this and any other issue pertaining to our law rankings. U.S. News also is open to meet with an advisory group—independent of both the law school associations and U.S. News—made up of law school academics and law school administrators interested in all aspects of our Best Law Schools rankings. Contact me at rmorse@usnews.com if you are a legal educator interested in organizing such an advisory committee.

The plenary's participants were:

• Michael A. Simons, dean, St. John's School of Law

• Kevin Johnson, dean, University of California—Davis School of Law

• Robert Morse, director of data research, U.S.News & World Report

• Sarah E. Redfield, professor, University of New Hampshire School of Law

• Jeffrey Evans Stake, Robert A. Lucas Chair of Law, Indiana University Maurer School of Law