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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

AMSL Has the Worst Reputation in the Country and Dobranski Is a Cause

The US News rankings were not kind to Ave Maria School of Law. I want to focus on one category in the rankings: Peer Evaluation.

Peer Evaluation (P.E.) is the biggest factor in the US News rankings, 25% of the total ranking score. P.E. is the reputation of the school among members of the law school academic community. US News sends surveys to the dean and 3 faculty members at each accredited law school (184 of them). They are asked to rate the "quality assessment" of the school, from "marginal" (a rank of 1) to "outstanding" (a rank of 5).

Even those who think the US News rankings are deficient in some way recognize that the P.E. score is an important factor to consider. Check out TaxProf Blog which has ranked all the schools by their P.E. score.

Yes, that is AMSL at the very bottom, tied with 2 other schools (Barry and Regent) for last place. AMSL has a P.E. score of 1.3, which is the lowest score this year. (The theoretically lowest possible score is 1.0.) Let me summarize what AMSL's P.E. score means: AMSL has a reputation among the law school community for being the WORST law school in the country. (AMSL even has a worse reputation than the butt-of-jokes Cooley which has a P.E. of 1.4.)

I expect to hear two excuses for AMSL's poor P.E. scores: 1) AMSL's youth, and 2) AMSL's conversative/Catholic nature. New law schools don't have the benefit of being well-known and tend to get poor P.E. scores, and there is a liberal/secular bias against schools like AMSL.

However, these excuses do NOT explain AMSL's current last place. AMSL debuted on the US News rankings two years ago with a score of 1.5, which was equal or better than 16 other schools. Last year, AMSL got a score of 1.4, whch was equal or better than 10 other schools. This year, AMSL is 1.3, equal to 2 other schools and better than no one. Over time, a young law school's P.E. scores should improve as the school becomes more well-known. Also, there is no reason to think that the liberal/secular bias is stronger against AMSL now than it was a couple of years ago.

So why has AMSL's P.E. score dropped to worst in the country?

I believe it is because even those faculty members who are Catholic and conservative, those who are the type who would support AMSL, think that AMSL deserves a poor reputation score. Think back to the September 12, 2007 Mirror of Justice public statement that denounced Dean Dobranski and the Board of Governors of AMSL. Some of the most well-respected deans and law professors from around the country publicly stated that the current administration has violated, not only Catholic social teaching, but also the standard norms for a secular academic institution. (I encourage you to read the entire statement again. It is astounding to see how explicitly Dobranski and the current administration is condemned.) The Mirror of Justice statement was reported far and wide on blogs. More importantly, legal academia is collegial. Professors happen to talk with one another and even happen to be friends. If you have a friend like Prof. Stephen Bainbridge or Prof. Rick Garnett, who you happen to consider eminently trustworthy, and he tells you that principles of basic academic freedom and professionalism are being violated at AMSL, you're probably going to give AMSL a P.E. score of "marginal."

How did Dobranski and the Board of Governors respond to Bainbridge and Garnett and the rest of the law professors who have an influence over future US News P.E. scores? They simply dismissed the Mirror of Justice statement and didn't do anything to address the problems mentioned in the statement. Disgusting.

The only way that AMSL can improve its P.E. score and move up in the US News rankings is if there is a change of leadership. As long as Dobranski and the current administration is still involved, AMSL is doomed to be the lawschool with the worst reputation in the country.