Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Leiter Reports Law School Rankings Vis-a-Vis Pitt Law

A man I had the pleasure of corresponding with extensively a number of years ago when I was considering attending UT-Austin's JD/Ph.D.(philosophy) program, Brian Leiter, maintains, in addition to a couple of weblogs, a ranking system that provides an informed alternative to that issued by the U.S. News and World Report. He's just released this year's ranking, which provides some interesting, in some ways encouraging and in other ways discouraging news for students and alumni of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As Leiter explains, his methodology differs significantly from U.S. News', as do his results, but his basis for deviation is robust, and in particular aims to equalize the playing field for state schools, which, due to their economies of scale, are systematically slighted by U.S. News formula.

Not surprisingly, the arrival of Professor Richard Delgado, one of the founding fathers of critical race theory, and his wife, Jean Stefancic, both of whom I had the pleasure of meeting while Pitt was courting them, has skewed the Faculty Quality Ranking on which Leiter principally relies. The results show continuing gaps, but significant improvement in Pitt's stature; one can hope the latter marks the trend and the former are soon to be filled in.

The bottom line: you can puzzle out the details, and Leiter's various detailed rubrics (and if you're interested in this sort of thing I urge you strongly to do so, as it's an intriguing system and Leiter's a passingly intelligent man), but basically in faculty quality Pitt continues to flirt with the top 30 schools, keeping company as a runner up with such schools as Brooklyn, USC, and Chicago-Kent, and exceeding Cardozo, Fordham, and UNC-Chapel Hill. Pitt's reputation rank, however, continues to lag many of the above-named schools, which largely register in the top 30 nationally.

This probably occurs for a number of reasons. First, as already noted, Pitt recently has made some aggressive faculty moves, and these take time to pay dividends (although in Leiter's arithmetic system, of course, a new hire's high citation rate immediately triggers a jump in rank). Second, the school is regional in orientation, feeding mostly the Pittsburgh market with modest forays into Philadelphia and other areas of Pennsylvania, and with some inroads into Ohio's several significant markets. I had friends who headed to D.C., New York, and elsewhere, but they were the exception. Consequently, Pitt's alumni aren't spreading their seed far and wide (if you'll pardon the metaphor).

Also, and I address this only gingerly, Pitt doesn't register at all on Leiter's assessment of student quality. He relies on LSAT scores, and provides an obvious caveat at the outset of his discussion.

No feasible measure of student quality is ideal, but LSAT scores are the best, crude proxy we have available. GPAs are hard to compare, without knowing about the undergraduate institutions the students are coming from, and the courses of study they pursued. It would be useful to know about students in the incoming class with advanced degrees, or high quality work experience, but such data is not available, nor is it easily comparable. Class size is a further factor complicating comparisons, since the midpoint of 500 is not like the midpoint of 200, though each provides pertinent information.

It's worth noting that Southern Methodist University, Harriet Miers' alma mater, is identified in the Top 40 in student quality. Other schools in the top 40 are those that score at the same level as or lower than Pitt in the Faculty Quality ranking, including William and Mary, Brooklyn, SMU, UC-Davis, Cardozo, and Fordham.

UC-Boulder, 17 in faculty quality and just outside the top 40 in student quality, seems to face a similar problem: somewhat isolated, not possessed of a legacy of prestigious alumni, not a significant player in the halls of national power and corporate America.

I haven't followed Leiter's work long enough to have a sense of the trend lines, though plainly Pitt has made inroads in the faculty quality area. The addition of Delgado must be the high citation count of over 3000 noted in the Faculty Quality Ranking, which is the eighth highest citation count listed (although, to be fair, each school has listed only its single highest citation count, and it's very likely that schools like the University of Chicago (high count over 9000) probably has several faculty members with more hits than Delgado.

Still and all, an apparent improvement, and at least a suggestion that Pitt's effort to engage elite faculty continues to pay dividends, and is something they should continue to work on. Similarly, for every top-flight faculty member that Pitt succeeds in luring, they should throw a little more change in the scholarship fund to ensure that the school can continue to compete for top applicants. The money Pitt was kind enough to offer me was the deciding factor between staying here and heading to Austin. While one might rightly question the wisdom of that decision -- I try not to, since it's the worst kind of irrevocable -- the fact remains: the prospect of substantially reduced debt upon graduation, and the critical freedom to work according to one's preference rather than according to one's financial need, were dispositive inducements.

So I offer a measured congratulations to my alma mater, and hope that things continue to look up.

(And I'd also like to congratulate former professors of mine, Michael Madison and John Parry, who both are listed among the top-quarter of Pitt's faculty in citation frequency, no mean feat since neither has been teaching for all that long).

NOTE: A truncated version of this post has been on the blog for about twenty minutes. It published prematurely due to an errant keystroke (and please don't tell me that it happens to everyone), and I didn't see the point of worrying about it. Sorry if I turned a dry, law school post into a cliffhanger. But honestly, if you were in any sort of suspense about it you probably need a hobby.


Blogger Michael said...

for those of us at pitt, that is somewhat good news. however, as you noted, the lack of reputation is a little damaging. I could be wrong, but I think a lot of folks I met this weekend at the NLG convention didn't really know about pitt law.

11:27 AM  

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