Friday, June 22, 2007

Ranking Finagling: Is There a Class Impact?

Everyone remotely involved in legal education knows that many Law School policies are now set by the US News and World Report rankings. Alums, students, university presidents, deans and law faculties appear to desire high rankings at virtually any cost. The biggest cost, to some extent, is the integrity of the schools as they figure out ways to game the system. The ways of doing so are far more numerous than this list but include:

1. Generating massive applications even from those who have no chance of acceptance.
2. Altering the weight given to LSAT and GPA in making admission decisions.
3. Temporary hiring of grads in order to report high placement rates.
4. Lopping off the "bottom" of first year classes and admitting more summer students, transfer students, or part time students.
5. Operating what are, in effect, in house bar review courses.
6. Printing huge numbers of announcements, brochures, and magazines at great expense that are little more than advertisements.

When all the shuffling and spending is done, it looks like the same numbers of students will enter law school and the vast majority will have the same legal education they would have received before the arms race. And, if all schools follow suit, they will stay in roughly the same place ranking wise. The only way to break the cycle is for law schools not to cooperate with USN & WR or for new and better rankings to emerge. I doubt either will happen.

I worry about two things when law schools turn over control to a magazine. The first deals with state law schools. Has any one of them determined whether the price paid is justified by the benefits for those who pay the bills? Or are deans simply responding to noisy faculty and alums. Second, is there a particular group or class of students most likely to be affected? If law school lop off the "bottom" of the class in order to rise in the rankings do those students -- other than not having performed as well on the LSAT -- have common characteristics. My hunch is that somehow those form lower socioeconomic class will ultimately pay. So what else is new.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Lucky Jim

I generally prefer Martin Amis to his father Kingsley but no book captures class bias more accurately that Kingsley's 1953 book, Lucky Jim. It is a humorous book and brilliant book. I think brilliant because even those who do not occupy either side in the world of academic class warfare can enjoy it. The book centers around Jim Dixon, woefully out of place in the British upper classes of academia and knowing it. In the edition I have there is an interesting preface by David Lodge. How appropriate.

The photo is from the film version. Can you tell which one is Jim? It was a bit of a flop at the time but deserves a look today. You can find it on Amazon but it's a bit pricey.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Caterina in the Big City

This Italian movie has a wonderful and dead center take on class that repeatedly plays out in law schools. As the title suggests, it is about a young girl's problems when moving to the city. She is torn between the lefties and the righties at school. (This all takes place in Rome.) Two characters are parents of two of her school chums -- one left one right. One parent is a lefty intellectual and the other a right wing politician. At one point there is a conflict at the school and the parents are gathered together. Caterina's father, a pathetic lower middle class character who craves being recognized by the privileged, is there too. He best scene of the movie shows his awakening when he sees how close the two other parents are even though publicly they are arch enemies. What he realizes that that they are united by privilege and privilege is stronger than any professed convictions.

It is good to remember this in higher education and legal education in particular. The self anointed liberals (there are no lefties) may from time to time find conservatives to argue with. But where they are rock solid united is in their rejection of non elitists. Do not their battles fool you. When faced with non elitists they will close ranks faster than you can say hypocrite.