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US News Rankings Czar: Our Methods Don’t Affect Law School Diversity

Posted Mar 5, 2010 9:06 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The rankings czar for U.S. News & World Report has a message for his critics: Don’t blame us for hindering law school diversity.

Writing at the U.S. News blog Morse Code, data research director Bob Morse denies that the rankings’ emphasis on the Law School Admission Test and undergraduate grades affects diversity.

The critics claim law schools seeking to move up in the rankings are admitting students with higher LSAT scores and grades—measures that “that reflect racial, gender, economic and geographical differences,” according to sociology professors Michael Sauder of the University of Iowa and Wendy Espeland of Northwestern University. “These statistics can threaten various forms of diversity,” they write in a recent article (PDF) “Rankings and Diversity.”

Morse says the argument is misguided because U.S. News uses median (or midpoint) LSAT scores and undergraduate grades, rather than the averages. “The median gives schools considerable flexibility to accept students with very low LSAT and undergraduate grades without lowering the school's actual median LSAT and grade-point average—and in turn, without negatively affecting their U.S. News rankings,” he writes.

U.S. News has a separate diversity index, but it’s not incorporated in the law school rankings. Morse says the diversity measure isn’t included because it’s unfair to compare schools in ethnically diverse states such as California and Florida against those in less diverse states such as Maine and Kansas. He says U.S. News would be willing to work with outside educators to develop a scale that takes state differences into account, making it possible to incorporate the diversity index into overall rankings.

Under a recent vote by the ABA House of Delegates, the association will study how a variety of organizations rank law firms and law schools.

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