Saturday, July 27, 2013

That’s one helluva student-faculty ratio! (Updated)

Law schools are obsessed with rankings, and therefore love to pander to the US News, aka “the surviving rump of an otherwise defunct news magazine[.]” And because US News says that one of the factors used to determine the best law schools is student-faculty ratio—more faculty members per student is betterlaw schools hired faculty at a torrid pace, at least until the recent layoffs and buyouts due to dramatically declining law student applications.  (At some point, economic reality has to kick in.) 

First, as a preliminary matter, don’t confuse a good student-faculty ratio with small classes.  Schools can hire huge numbers of faculty, give them incredibly low teaching loads consisting of small seminars, and then cram most of the students into big classes in huge lecture halls.  In other words, these profs are not hired for the students' benefit—increasingly, many of the new hires have never practiced law in any significant way—but rather to impress like-minded law profs at other schools.  Why?  The hope is that the other schools’ profs will give the hiring school a higher rank in the US News survey.  (There’s that damn US News again.)  Also, it ain’t a bad gig for the law profs themselves.  It’s what “academics dream about when they dream about heaven: no real teaching responsibilities[.]”

But in any event, one school managed to blow the student-faculty ratio out of the water, although it did so much by accident.  A new law school in Indiana decided to open its doors amidst an incredible free fall in law school applications.  It hired 25-or-so faculty to get things up and running, but its incoming class may turn out to be about 22 students!  Having more faculty than students, of course, blazes a whole new trail in the student-faculty metric.  Unfortunately, though, the new-law-school-on-the-block will have to ramp up the student portion of the ratio, or economic reality may, once again, rear its ugly head.

Update:  The "25-or-so faculty" includes staff as well.  Nonetheless, the new law school's student-faculty ratio appears to be the nation's best!

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