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February 27, 2008

Does innovation matter? A depressing statistic, leadership, and the rewarding of risk

Good2bblues2 Here's a depressing statistic:  The same schools have been in the top 14 of the U.S. News rankings since the mid-90's.  In other words, there has been no movement in or out of that group despite the  development of distinctive programs at several schools.  Given that there have been varying levels of change and improvement among schools in the top rank, this means that innovation, or a lack of it, has not mattered much. 

The above statement is true only if a school judges its value primarily in terms of the U.S. News ranking.  Sadly, whether they admit it or not, this is true of many schools, the leaders of which often have to answer to non-lawyers who care about carefully parsed numerical rankings, which look to an outsider like a fairly objective measure of quality.   It may not be surprising, then, that those leaders do not care much about innovation (especially in teaching) when they consider lateral hires, promotion, and pay for law professors. 

Unfortunately, I don't see the Deadwood rankings Doug refers to below as doing much to measure innovation, either.  Like the U.S. News survey, it won't measure the student experience in a way that reflects or rewards risk-taking.  Many people have made much of the negatives related to a focus on these rankings, but one of the most damaging may be a general drag on our ability to evolve our schools into something better by encouraging those among us who create positive change at the core of what we do.

-- Mark Osler

February 27, 2008 | Permalink


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Great insights, Mark, as well as a notable sign of the echo-chamber reality of US news. Imagine what people might think/say if the exact same 65 teams got picked every year to participate in March Madness for over a decade. Or if the exact same set of actors were nominated for Oscars and Emmys every year for over a decade. I think such results would lead lots of objective observers to question the fairness of the standards being used by the "selection committee." But, as we all know, education realities are never quite the same as the realities is sports or entertainment.

I think we've talked here about an innovation ranking system, but maybe we will have to start it. Of couse, any school with members blogging on LSI (or even reading LSI) will score lots of points in our ranking system -- and jutifiably so.

Posted by: Doug B. | Feb 27, 2008 11:35:13 PM

Here's a thought: why doesn't the ABA do its own ranking of law schools, based on their evaluation of the school's success at preparing students for PRACTICE?

It's not US News & World Reports' business to care about what really makes for a great legal education. It is (or should be) the ABA's.

Let the students who want "prestige" go the US&NWR top schools. Let the ones who actually want to be lawyers go to the ABA Top 100.

Better yet, the ABA should just set up a database where the student decides how to weight various factors, instead of the omniscient editor making it up.

Posted by: Gene Koo | Feb 29, 2008 4:58:11 PM

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