Seeking for Righteousness

The Personal Blog of Kaimi Wenger

Thoughts on WSJ editorial

I recently looked at the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed claiming that law professors are as a group heavily tilted toward the left. While the authors claims are provocative, I am not wholly convinced by the evidence that they have chosen to present.

A member of a law listserv mentioned the odd decision to use 22 law schools, suggesting that it may have been motivated by a desire to avoid Notre Dame, which has a conservative faculty and probably falls somewhere in the 20-25 range. (This is a concern about sample selection bias).

There were other potential methodological problems which worry me. Phrases like “At Yale, where almost 50% of the faculty donate, almost 95% give predominantly to Democrats” is full of easily manipulated, undefined terms (what exactly does “predominantly to Democrats” mean anyway?). They also used selective citation to data that really, really looks like cherry-picking. Why cite to Yale with “predominantly” language, Michigan with also-undefined “8-to-1” (8 what to 1 what? numbers? amounts?), and Georgetown with dollar amounts (was Georgetown skewed by one large donor?).

In addition, I’m concerned with lack of mention regarding controlling for other factors. The authors say “America splits evenly between Republicans and Democrats” yet their data is from 1994-2000, a time period during which Republicans were fielding many candidates to the right of center (Newt, anyone?), while Democrats had one of the most centrist and popular Democrats in recent memory in the white house.

It is unclear whether the time period used, “1994 to 2000” includes figures relating to the 2000 election (is the 2000 inclusive or exclusive?), which essentially split 50-50. It is certain that they relate to 1996, when Clinton substantially beat Dole. It doesn’t say much that the law profs preferred Clinton in 1996 — so did most everyone else.

I’m also curious about how the numbers might be affected by the geographic locations of top schools. Specifically, I wonder how many top schools are located in states where the Governor and/or Senators are Dems (more, I suspect, than not). Schools like Yale, Harvard, Columbia, NYU, Stanford, UCLA, Cal, Georgetown, etc might be tilted toward Democrats due to the home-court advantage effect. (In the same way, Arizona State University or BYU may tilt Republican). While the Senate is split pretty evenly, many Republicans come from states that don’t have top law schools, like Mississippi, Georgia, Utah, Arizona, etc.

So, I am unconvinced at the moment, based on the evidence shown, that law faculties are underrepresentative or biased as a group against conservatives. It is possible that the full study will address these concerns. If so, natural places for the discussion would turn to would be (1) whether there are factors within legal study that make the law inherently more liberal than society, (2) if other factors are operating to prevent conservatives from entering law faculty.

One last note — given the excellent back-and-forth going on about affirmative action between Sub Judice and Discriminations, I am surprised not to see the op-ed being discussed there. Come on guys, get with the program!

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April 3, 2003 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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