Maths; or, The Trouble With Hearsay

I apologize in advance for what is likely to be a post devoid of levity.

Months ago, I embarked on a project with the Office of Career Planning and the Office of Communications regarding enhancements to our website. After consulting with the University’s Office of General Counsel about federal privacy law, we devised a method for giving very detailed information about post-graduate jobs without infringing on individual privacy; implementing it would be time-consuming and hair-pulling, since it would require combing through three years of data that had been gathered without this end goal in mind, but hey, everyone likes a challenge. About the time we decided we could move forward with that project, I met with a 3L here who raised lots of questions about our post-graduate fellowships; I decided that presenting answers to those questions would be a good corollary to the list of jobs.

We were going along nicely with this project when I learned that Professor Paul Campos of insidethelawschoolscam fame would be coming to give a talk. We then went into overdrive on the project, trying hard to get it wrapped up prior to his visit, so that there would be lots of incontrovertible information available. But that turned out not to be possible, due in part to the fact that our admitted student weekend was scheduled to occur at the same time.

During the first panel of our weekend, I mentioned, in response to a question from a student about post-graduate fellowships, that we were in the midst of wrapping up this big project, and that while I was loath to state with authority the number of fellowships we give in advance of the definitive data about to be posted, I could say with authority that at the time we reported our NALP data, only eight of our graduates were on post-graduate fellowships. Everyone else previously awarded a fellowship either had moved on to a new position, or was unemployed. Plain enough, right?

Apparently not, because that information was then relayed to Professor Campos—possibly by one of the prospective students who heard it, possibly by someone who had heard it from one of them (and this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have rules against hearsay)—and understood to be a statement that we had only ever given out eight fellowships. That is quite certainly neither what I stated nor what I implied.

Fast-forward to last night at about 5:37PM: Finally, finally, the giant data baby was born—so exciting! On the presumption that he would be interested, I phoned Professor Campos without success, and then sent this email:

From: Zearfoss, Sarah Sent: Tuesday, April 03, 2012 6:19 PM To: Paul F. Campos Subject: Michigan Law–new career stats on web

Hi Paul—

I just left a message on your voicemail, and thought I’d follow up with an email. We just finished many weeks of work on enhancing the career data available on our website, and I thought you might be interested:

The project predated your visit last week to Michigan, but your recent blog posting naturally increased my eagerness to wrap the project up. I thought you might be particularly interested in the discussion of the post-grad fellowships, which explains that the NALP data we reported this year included only eight of our post-grad fellowship positions; the remaining 67 people have already concluded their fellowships, and appeared in the NALP data either as employed in post-fellowship positions, or as unemployed. In other words, yes, we gave fellowships to roughly 20% of the class—but also, yes, only 8 of those are part of our job statistics. Both those statements are simultaneously true.

You might also be interested in our three-year listing of all jobs our students have taken following graduation; as far as I can tell, this hasn’t been replicated by any other law school.

My direct dial is XXX.XXX.XXXX, and I’d love to speak with you at your earliest convenience—I’ll be in my office tonight for another hour or so, and will be back in early tomorrow morning.

Sarah Z.

Professor Campos didn’t contact me, but today he wrote a new blog post stating that Michigan Law School had engaged in “material misrepresentations” with regard to our post-graduate fellowships. The basis for that claim is an apparent continued misunderstanding of the meaning of my statement about the number of post-graduate fellowships. He says in his blog: “dmitted students who were visiting UMLS last week were told that the post-graduate fellowship program . . . employed eight graduates . . . rather than 75 graduates” But that is not what I said to the admitted students. What I said was that our nine-months-post-grad employment data included only eight people who were still using post-grad fellowships (because they started their fellowship, which lasts a maximum of 12 weeks, close to the nine-month mark). What I also said was that the total number of fellowships was higher, but that I would refer them to our forthcoming web data for the exact number, rather than risk making a misstatement. (Hey! That’s irony!)

There seem to be two possibilities here. One: I lied. To a roomful of 170 admitted students. And I did it a mere three days before I knew the correct data would be posted. Two: Someone misunderstood my statement.

The way I’ve framed the issues probably makes my position clear. Whether the misunderstanding was by a person who heard my statement, or Professor Campos, or someone in between, I can’t know. But a misunderstanding it most assuredly is.

Finally, a related point. Professor Campos also complains of our failure to make our post-grad fellowships a matter of “public record” until now. We have, however, long had thorough information about the fellowships on our website, albeit in the student password-protected section—because only our students were applying for these fellowships, and there just didn’t seem to be a need to make it more broadly available. Certainly, these programs have been part of the public discourse about law schools, and prospective and current law students alike seem well aware of them. When, after speaking with the student who had questions about the post-graduate fellowships, I concluded that more information to a broader group would be helpful, we endeavored to provide that information.

Come look at our website. We have made a strong institutional commitment to providing comprehensive employment data that is, as far as I have been able to discern, unparalleled at any other law school. Judge our truthiness for yourself.

-Dean Z. Senior Assistant Dean for Admissions, Financial Aid, and Career Planning