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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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Why law schools should be transparent about their problems and prospective law students should exercise due diligence before they matriculate at law schools

In Academia, Law, Law School, Legal Education & Pedagogy on February 22, 2017 at 6:45 am

Allen Mendenhall

When I was in college, the common assumption was that students who couldn’t decide what to do after graduation enrolled in law school. The law was a fallback profession, the legal academy a repository for good but dithering students looking to find their way.

Things have changed. The blogosphere abounds with news about the crisis in legal education. The global financial recession brought about a decrease in law-school applications and LSAT takers while tuition rates continued rising. Undergraduates increasingly determined that law school was not worth the time or student-loan debt, in part because starting salaries for lawyers remained stagnant while the job market for legal positions remained saturated.

Law schools with struggling reputations (say, those which fall into the fourth tier of the U.S. News and World Report rankings) have experienced a decrease in applications and reduced matriculation rates. Forced to shrink the size of their classes to remain statistically competitive and satisfy American Bar Association (ABA) admissions standards, these schools have taken creative measures such as accepting more transfer students and developing non-J.D. courses and programming to counteract reduced tuition revenue.

Elite institutions are not immune from trouble. One study has shown that applications to Harvard Law School are down 18%. Applications to the University of Minnesota Law School are down 50%, forcing that school to scramble to save money. It reportedly has not only bought out faculty but also cut coffee in the faculty lounge. Dorothy Brown, a professor of tax law at Emory University School of Law, predicts the imminent closure of a top law school. Meanwhile, as these financial woes grow and spread, LSAT scores and bar passage rates continue to worsen at lower-ranked institutions.

The ABA and the Department of Education (DOE) are cracking down on law schools, the former in response to pressure from the latter.  The DOE, in 2016, proposed a one-year revocation of the ABA’s accreditation powers. Consequently, the ABA has more aggressively enforced compliance with its admissions standards, threatening law schools with, among other things, reprimands, probation, and sanctions. For example, the ABA instituted a remedial plan to reverse the negative trends of Ave Maria School of Law’s bar-passage rates and admissions data. Around three months ago, the ABA censured Valparaiso University School of Law and placed Charlotte School of Law on probation.

The ABA has not revoked Charlotte School of Law’s accreditation, but the DOE has nevertheless terminated this school’s access to federal student aid. Law students there have filed a federal class-action lawsuit alleging that Charlotte School of Law and its parent company, InfiLaw, misrepresented the extent of the problems they were confronting, thereby misleading students about the health of the institution in which they were enrolled. Speculation now circulates about whether the closure of Charlotte Law School is inevitable.

Indiana Tech Law School, known for its experimental pedagogical approaches, has announced that it is shutting down. Other law schools have turned to institutional consolidation to remain financially viable. The William Mitchell College of Law, for instance, merged with Hamline University School of Law in 2015. Thomas M. Cooley Law School affiliated with Western Michigan University in 2014, changing its name to Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. It closed its Ann Arbor campus that same year.

The good news for worried law school administrators is that the ABA House of Delegates has voted down proposed Resolution 110B, which would have required 75% of graduates from any law school to pass the bar exam within two years, a figure that would have resulted in the non-compliance of several schools with ABA standards.

In this climate of institutional contraction and uncertainty, law school administrators must remain transparent, lest they invite litigation of the kind facing Charlotte School of Law. On the other hand, prospective law students must complete their due diligence before enrolling in law school. Although the doctrine of caveat emptor has faded away, some residual form of it could benefit the wider culture. Absent any evidence of fraudulent misrepresentation or deceptive practices, law schools should not be liable for the poor matriculation decisions of starry-eyed students.

Prospective law students have a personal responsibility to make informed choices about their graduate education. They should examine closely a law school’s admissions data, including GPA and LSAT scores, and stay sober about their own qualifications and preparedness for law school. They should account for a law school’s employment records and bar-passage rates. And they should research the state of the legal job market in the geographical area surrounding different law schools, paying close attention to the hiring patterns of local firms and organizations.

Not everyone goes to law school for the same reason. Some wish to study at an institution with a religious affiliation; others attend schools that consistently secure for their graduates judicial clerkships or opportunities to work at prestigious law firms. It’s important that prospective law students know exactly what they want from law school—and that they refuse to “settle” on a law school that isn’t a good fit for them.

During this transitional period for legal education, law schools with a long history of recognized stability may not satisfy consumer demands as they once did. Law schools need students, and they’re recruiting them vigorously with mixed results. The days when law school was a prudent option for students who waffled about their profession or career are long gone. While law schools should be scrutinized for their marketing strategies and admissions and employment data, students, too, should be responsible for their poor decisions.

Accountability runs both ways. Law schools and prospective law students alike must equip themselves with knowledge of the legal job market—in addition to the costs and demands of legal education—and adjust their plans accordingly. Otherwise their future could be bleak.

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