Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Hunger for Transparency

Guest post by Ethan Haines

Ethan Haines is on day 14 of a hunger strike to draw attention to, among other things, the lack of transparency of law school employment statistics and rankings. You can find out more at

To live an enriched existence, which for many is making a positive impact on society while enjoying a high quality of life, you must equip yourself with the best professional tool, a solid education. Accordingly, for individuals willing to sacrifice time, money, and energy in exchange for academic and professional enlightenment, that experience should be both affordable and accessible to individuals from all walks of life. This has never been truer than in today's post-recession economy. I would know; I am a recent law graduate.

In today's language, being a law graduate means you have survived standardized tests and a highly competitive law program with six figures of student loan debt, only to become highly educated, yet unemployed. While everyone has individual responsibility for their own experiences, the careers of law students and graduates are highly dictated by an unknown force known as law school rankings.

In the legal community, law school rankings, namely the U.S. News & World Report's annual rankings determine whether you will enjoy a smooth or bumpy ride when transitioning into your career as a legal professional. There is nothing wrong with the process of "ranking" schools, unless the rankings maintain too much power over the industry that it serves. In the legal industry, commercial rankings have become more influential than the regulating organizations governing the field. Moreover, the methodology behind those rankings are highly controversial and have been found to be somewhat flawed, yet the industry (and public) continues to rely on them.

As noted by the American Bar Association (ABA), the organization charged with regulating legal education, the public's reliance on flawed rankings has had adverse effects on legal education such as increasing the cost of a law degree, discouraging need-based financial awards, and reducing the incentive to enhance diversity in the profession. It also discourages individuals from pursuing certain careers, such as law, when they fear that their background will prevent them from being competitive, thereby making them another J.D. statistic –an unemployed/underemployed law graduate with a six-figure student loan debt. This increases the pressure to choose the "right" law school.

At the current time, I am engaged in a hunger strike (fourteen days and counting) to thwart law schools from participating in U.S. News' annual rankings unless the data they submit is accurate. I am also seeking to reform the profession's reliance on those rankings when making employment decisions. The pursuit of higher education is the primary method for advancing in society. To further reform our educational system and increase student participation in said system, three things are required: affordable education, transparency in statistical reporting, and professional career development.

In essence, whether undertaking an undergraduate or graduate degree, rankings should assist students with making decisions regarding costs and career development. We, as a country, are building a workforce that must now complete in a global market. To make our workforce both competitive and productive, we must teach students how to exploit their educational experiences instead of developing new ways to hinder their progress.

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