Law School Rankings Complicate Diversity Efforts, Research Suggests
By Karen Sloan
Research by two social scientists suggests that the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings aren’t helping legal educators build a more diverse student body.
Deans and admissions officers told the researchers that the pressure to maintain or improve their U.S. News rankings can mean fewer slots for diverse students, who tend to score lower on the LSAT and have lower grade point averages. “Selectivity” — LSAT scores, undergraduate grades and schools’ degree of exclusivity in accepting applicants — accounts for one quarter of each school’s ranking.
U.S. News does maintain a law school “diversity index,” but those data are not a factor in the overall rankings.
“A lot of people we interviewed expressed concern over the impact of rankings on diversity,” said Wendy Espeland, an assistant professor of sociology at Northwestern University. “The overarching tension between catering to the rankings and doing what you think is best for your school is intense.”
Espeland and Michael Sauder, an assistant sociology professor at the University of Iowa, have been studying the rankings’ influence on graduate programs since 2003. They co-authored a recent paper that chronicled the many ways in which the U.S. News rankings influence law school management. Sauder and Espeland considered diversity as part of their larger research and published their findings in “Rankings and Diversity” in the Fall 2009 edition of the Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice.
The research, based on interviews with more than 200 law school administrators, was funded in part through a grant from the Law School Admissions Council.
Bob Morse, director of data research for U.S. News, said that diversity is a complicated issue that cannot easily be incorporated into its rankings formula.
“To say that U.S. News is inhibiting law schools from taking minority students is a misunderstanding of the mathematics behind the rankings,” he said.
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