by James A. Bacon
The University of Virginia School of Law has announced that it will no longer cooperate with U.S. News & World-Report in compiling its ranking of top law schools. The school currently ranks No. 8 in the country.
Here’s the reason given by Dean Risa Goluboff: “As they currently stand, the U.S. News rankings fail to capture much of what we value at UVA — facilitating access to legal education and the legal profession for students from every background; fostering the free exchange of ideas within a community of joy, humanity, and trust; providing top-notch teaching by accomplished faculty; supporting public service; and launching our graduates into the stellar career paths of their choosing.”
I’ll leave it to others to comment upon the law school’s commitment to “fostering the free exchange of ideas” and probe the meaning of the modifier that such an exchange should take place “within a community of joy, humanity, and trust.”
I’ll focus instead on Goluboff’s commitment to facilitating access to legal education for students “from every background.”
UVA Today, the mouthpiece of the Ryan administration, highlighted UVa Law’s ranking as the No. 1 law school at a public university as recently as March. What changed? It appears that UVa Law and dozens of other law schools are, lemming-like, following the lead of Yale and Harvard in their criticism of U.S. News’s “flawed” methodology. That methodology, which considers reputation among peers and judges, bar-exam pass rates, and success in placing graduates, among other factors, gives insufficient weight to schools that admit low-income students and emphasize careers in “public service.”
What Goluboff values in a student’s background can be discerned in a web page, “What Prospective Students Should Know About UVA Law,” which details the school’s “student characteristics.”
- 50% women, 49% men, 1% non-binary.
- 40% identifying as “people of color,” a figure that pointedly includes students of Middle Eastern descent, even though they are classified as Caucasian by the American Bar Association.
- 16% identifying as LGBT.
- Students from 38 states and D.C. plus eight foreign countries.
In other words, UVa Law is dedicated to recruiting a demographically diverse student body, as broken down by race, sexual orientation, gender — the social-justice trifecta — with a nod to geography. Pumping up the number of “people of color” is deemed so important that Middle Easterners, who are more closely related genetically to Europeans than South Asians, East Asians or Africans, are given honorary “people of color” designation.
However, UVa does not publish “diversity” data along other dimensions such as Urban, Suburban or Rural; or religious affiliation, such as Catholic, evangelical Protestant, or Orthodox Jew; or by partisan political affiliation. In other words, some types of “diversity” are valued far more than others.
One can read Goluboff’s “Statement of Diversity, Equity and Belonging” on the law school website without encountering any mention of “intellectual” diversity or “worldview” diversity. Rather, her definition is driven by social-justice considerations. Here are some excerpts (my bold face):
Diversity, equity, and belonging are values fundamental to the University of Virginia School of Law community. …
A commitment to making our society a more just and equal one has been the abiding mission of my professional life. As a scholar, I have spent much of my career studying the pernicious effects of discrimination, cultural isolation, and political polarization. What I have learned has made me deeply committed to diversity not as some abstract concept but as a way of life. …
Our institution, like our nation, was born in contradiction — between the reality of slavery and the aspirations of democracy and service. We must continue to reckon with the legacy of slavery that has been part of our history since our 1819 founding, as well as the segregation and discrimination that followed. We also must continue to redefine what those founding aspirations mean for our own time. We bring those aspirations closer to reality striving to create a diverse community of students, faculty, and staff that ensures the belonging, thriving, and success of every member.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are not demographic traits that higher-ed institutions traditionally have collected. But it appears that UVa Law does gather the data, otherwise it could not report that 16% of its student body identifies as LGBT. By contrast, there is no indication on the website that UVa collects data that would lend insight into the partisan and worldview diversity of its students. The absence of such data suggests that UVa Law places little value on those characteristics.
Ironically, while Goluboff decries the effects of “cultural isolation and political polarization,” her rhetoric suggests that she is intent upon admitting a student body aligned with the ideological monoculture created by the faculty she has recruited. While some might think that viewpoint diversity is critical for a school that trains professionals to engage in contests of legal interpretation on behalf of a wide range of clients, her rejection of the U.S. News‘ ranking methodology says she thinks otherwise.