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Want to Go From R-2 to R-1? Don’t Look to Law Schools to Help

In Academia, Law School, Legal Education & Pedagogy on March 28, 2018 at 6:45 am

Say you’re an administrator at a university classified as a “doctoral university” by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions on Higher Education. You’re currently ranked in the R-2 category, meaning your school has a higher degree of research activity, but not enough to get you into that coveted R-1 spot for highest research activity. Your president and board of trustees have pushed you and other administrators to elevate your school’s ranking to R-1.  What should you do?  How can you accomplish a jump in rankings?

Here are four steps to get you started. However, there is one thing, historically, you should not do to move from R-2 to R-1: rely on your law school for a boost.

Professional degrees like a law degree (J.D.) do not count toward a school’s total number of research doctorates awarded according to the metrics used by Carnegie to classify universities. Law schools, at least in theory, teach legal doctrines and equip students with the professional skills necessary to practice law (whether law schools have succeeded in this mission is another matter). Yet law schools by and large do not train students to become scholars or to conduct scholarly research—hence the Carnegie “post-baccalaureate” designation.

Carnegie (which is now run out of Indiana University, not the Carnegie Foundation) treats law degrees as post-baccalaureate credentials, or professional-practice doctorates, but not as research degrees. For this reason, among others, Carnegie generally does not measure research and development expenditures in law schools. The fields Carnegie considers for these benchmarks are science and engineering (S&E), humanities, social science, STEM, business, education, public policy, and social work.

Universities report to the federal government the classification of their degrees (e.g., research or professional) by academic program. Data for this reporting are publicly available through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Law schools like the one at Berkeley, which offers a Ph.D. in jurisprudence and social policy, report degree credentials besides just the professional-practice doctorate (J.D.). The most recent available data come from the 2015-16 academic year, when Berkeley reported 332 professional-practice law degrees and 13 research-scholarship degrees. Thus, the law school at Berkeley probably contributed to that school’s R-1 status as a doctoral university with highest research activity.

University investment in law schools that do not offer research Ph.Ds. (or their equivalent, such as an S.J.D. or J.S.D.) is a reallocation of resources away from programs and departments that could help your school move from R-2 to R-1.

Before year’s end, Carnegie will have updated its classifications. The last time it updated its classifications was 2015. Carnegie has begun updating its classifications on a 5-year cycle rather than a 3-year cycle to, in its words, “better reflect the rapidly changing higher education landscape.”

The latest updates will change not only rankings but also how J.D.s are assessed. Law degrees “have previously not been considered as part of the Basic Classification methodology,” Carnegie states. But the revised methodology allegedly will account for law degrees in new ways. “We will soon release a proposal for this change and solicit feedback regarding our plans from the higher education community,” Carnegie submits.

The Carnegie rankings remain a point of pride and competition between universities. They are high priorities for university presidents and administrators because the United States Department of Education relies on them, they contribute to a university’s prestige, and they can affect a university’s eligibility for grant money.

Depending on the methodological revisions Carnegie adopts for its classifications, having a productive law school might, in the future, push a university from R-2 to R-1. Funding law faculty research potentially could yield significant returns in terms of Carnegie rankings—but probably not in 2018.

Much remains unknown about the future of the Carnegie rankings. It’s unlikely the J.D. will be reclassified as a research doctorate any time soon, if ever. And it’s thus unlikely research and development expenditures on law schools will help universities looking to move from R-2 to R-1. (To be classified as an R-1 doctoral university with highest research activity, your university must offer 20 research-based or scholarship-based degrees.)

In short, you should tell your university president and board of trustees to hold off on investing additional, substantial sums in law schools—at least for the purposes of moving from R-2 to R-1. It’s better to wait and see how the Carnegie changes play out and then to respond accordingly. Fortunately, the wait won’t be long. We’ll know more in the coming months.


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