Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Should Catholic law schools "game the system?"
The Wall Street Journal has a front-page story about the debate over whether US News should start counting the credentials of part-time students in creating its law school rankings. A number of Catholic law schools are among those that place lower-LSAT/GPA students in part-time programs, then admit them to the regular program in the second year (when they no longer count for US News purposes). Some deans argue that changing the rankings will push schools to stop admitting students who might turn out to be capable lawyers. Former Toledo dean Phillip Closius, whose school skyrocketed from the fourth to the second tier, is candid: "U.S. News is not a moral code, it's a set of seriously flawed rules of a magazine, and I follow the rules...without hiding anything," he says. Larry Ribstein wonders how this is different from the businesses that "game the system" in terms of their accounting practices. Former Houston dean Nancy Rapoport recounts that managing the rankings is like “trying to meet analysts' quarterly expectations by massaging the numbers." John Steele notes that this is the most powerful kind of teaching by law schools: teaching by example.
Does a Catholic law school have a responsibility to its current students to be as highly ranked as possible, within the limits of the US News rules? (If so, does a Catholic-owned business have a responsibility to its investors to maximize profit within the limits of the law?) Should Catholic law schools be held to a higher standard when it comes to "cooking the books?" [Inescapably fallen human nature alert: I like to think that I favor the US News change because it eliminates an unfair way to avoid the spirit of the reporting rules, but perhaps it's because my current institution does not have a part-time program and thus stands to benefit from the change.]