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How significant is diversity in assessing a law school? The State Bar of California thinks it’s pretty important—it recently suggested that U.S. News & World Report (“U.S. News”) factor a law school’s diversity efforts into its score for the law school rankings. Among the California Bar’s suggestions are that U.S. News should consider law schools’ diversity programs and activities and should conduct a survey on schools’ reputations for diversity.
In a recent blog post, Robert Morse director of data research for U.S. News acknowledges that the rankings do not currently account for diversity:
U.S. News doesn't incorporate our current diversity index or diversity into the Best Law Schools rankings, because measuring how successful law schools are at achieving diversity goals cannot be included easily in our rankings formula in a fair and meaningful way. The current U.S. News diversity index does not measure how successful law schools are at achieving diversity standards against a benchmark; rather, it measures to what extent a law school is diverse.
Mr. Morse questions how diversity could be measured and incorporated into the rankings given factors like location (some geographic locations are more diverse than others), private vs. public statuses of schools and different types of diversity (ethnic vs. economic). He also questions how relevant diversity is to the rankings’ focus on academic quality:
Yet another important issue is to what degree diversity is linked to academic quality versus being an important social goal. There is also the key question of whether diversity should even be included in the rankings, given that the main purpose of the rankings is to identify the best schools academically.
I see Mr. Morse’s points on measuring diversity—it’s not as easy as counting the number of minority students at a particular school. But I don’t think that is a reason to dismiss the idea. A diversity component may take planning and thought, but it’s an important aspect of legal education. And I do believe that diversity impacts the academic quality of an institution. A law school is only as good as its professors and students—the ideas, debates, innovations and scholarship of the law school community are what make a school. And what good are thoughts and opinions if they’re homogenous? With diversity comes broader experience. As leaders within the legal industry, politics and in the greater business world, lawyers should be exposed to a range of ideas and insights—it will better equip them to be decision-makers and voices for others.
Figuring out the best way to assess and convey law schools' diversity may be tough, but it’s worth it to get creative.
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