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April 04
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:

http://www.law.umich.edu/careers/Pages/default.aspx

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: “[A]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
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Comments

There was a need for disclosure, and that need continues.

"[T]here just didn’t seem to be a need to make it more broadly available."

This is clearly incorrect, as anybody who thinks about the issue for more than a minute would conclude. It seems quite self-evidently likely that a prospective student would be interested in how many Michigan graduates found themselves in a position to take advantage of these fellowships. I'm happy that you came to the conclusion that such individuals would also be interested in this information, but you were a little slow on the uptake.

While the existence of these programs may have been known by applicants (and even that is subject to dispute -- possibly you should survey individuals whose applications are accepted before making claims about their knowledge of these programs), their size most assuredly was not. And the substantial size of this program is far more relevant than the mere fact that it exists.

I applaud your recent moves toward increased transparency, and I hope that we will soon see more disclosure of graduates' salary outcomes. Chicago reports salary information for 90% of its class. Why doesn't Michigan do the same?
 on 4/4/2012 9:31 PM

Prof Campos

I used to give Prof Campos a tap on the back for bringing the plight of the under-employed Attorneys to light..

Now I believe he is getting too swell headed & just throwing information out there weather it is true or not & hopes it will stick..

Prof Campos' 15 1/2 minutes of fame is up...
 on 4/4/2012 9:35 PM

I was there...

As a prospective student who was present at the ASW panel in question, I will say that Dean Z's recount of her response during the panel is pretty accurate.

I didn't interpret the response as "the University of Michigan has only ever given out a total of 8 fellowships."  And, considering that Dean Z did expressly say that additional students had transitioned out of the fellowship program and went onto other things, I don't see any duplicity.

The new report isn't that flattering. But, the data is a heck of a lot more transparent than ever other law school's numbers I've encountered...
 on 4/4/2012 11:17 PM

Class Act

This is why Michigan is such a wonderful institution.  You take people to task for misstating information.  I was at that panel and clearly heard what you stated that the NALP data only included 8 of those fellowships.  I also heard some of what was said by Paul Campos by virtue of other students all too eager to divulge what they had heard in his panel.  I find it very strange that on his quest to expose the "law school scam" he has made his target one of the schools that has been known to be clearly transparent.  See: http://abovethelaw.com/tag/law-school-transparency/ as voted by the students Michigan is the most honest law school and that is greatly thanks to you Dean Z.  Keep up the good work.  Those of us that are doing our research can see through the mud.

J
 on 4/4/2012 11:34 PM

Clarity

"The way I’ve framed the issues probably makes my position clear."  Actually, not quite.

You say, "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."  But the latter statement actually is not true:  the entire 20% is "part of [the school's] job statistics," albeit mostly in a different part of the statistics than the "currently receiving fellowships" section.

If you cannot achieve clarity even when setting out to do so, with forethought and in writing, how likely is it that you were clear when speaking informally? 
 on 4/5/2012 9:57 AM

NALP

"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."

Why not make your entire NALP report available as about 40 other schools do? It contains a wealth of information that is not presently available, such as sources of jobs (OCI, prior employer), timing of job offers (before graduation, before bar passage, after bar passage), full time vs. part time jobs, permanent vs. temporary jobs, and a number of other things.

You have the NALP report, and it would take no more than 0.1 hours to upload it and place a link on the employment statistics page.
 on 4/5/2012 10:36 AM

RE: Clarity

Yep. Communication can be tricky—as this exchange suggests. The phrase “job statistics” followed “NALP data” in a previous sentence of my email, so that the context made evident that the job statistics I am referring to are the NALP data. Thus, the statement is correct. Now, I don’t have a transcript of what I said to the admitted students, of course, and yes, it is quite possible I was unclear—but I never meant to suggest otherwise! The phrase you pull out--“The way I’ve framed the issues probably makes my position clear”-- referred only to the likelihood that readers could guess which of the two options in the preceding paragraph I sign on to; it was not meant to suggest that everything I say is clear. See supra: communication can be tricky.

-Dean Z.
 on 4/5/2012 10:46 AM

terry malloy


So,

Your comments were misleading but not inaccurate.

Noted.
 on 4/5/2012 10:51 AM

Employment data on your website

My congratulations on an excellent website and your thorough research. I came to the site looking for a place for a company to post job openings for new graduates. Can you direct me? Our nephew is a graduate of your law school and we are big fans of the quality education you are providing.

Kim Fedore
General Manager
Elite Lawyer Project
 on 4/5/2012 12:41 PM

Re: Maths; or, The Trouble With Hearsay

How could you not know how many students were given post-graduate fellowships?  This is information that is completely within Michigan's control. You're the ones who created the fellowships and paid out the money! You should be able to obtain this information within an hour, not months. So you are telling us that, for several years a substantial minority of Michigan's graduates have been unemployed upon graduation but for these fellowships, yet you did not know until yesterday how many students were on these fellowships?
 on 4/5/2012 12:46 PM

RE: NALP

That’s a good idea! I’ve done some googling and found some links to these pages. I’ll check it out.

-Dean Z.
 on 4/5/2012 12:49 PM

RE: Clarity

I think Dean Z. was perfectly clear in stating: "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." The antecedent of "those" is "fellowships." Only eight of the fellowships figure into the job statistics. This in no way implies that the rest of the 20% of students are not included in the nine-month-post-grad employment data, i.e. what Dean Z. consistently has referred to as "job statistics."

Now, perhaps I am misunderstanding the source of the confusion, and thus this explanation is irrelevant. But in that case, you should have been more clear.
 on 4/5/2012 3:12 PM

Re: Re: Clarity

With respect, I still think that one of the two statements you labeled as being "true" actually is untrue.  In your post, you said that "yes, only 8 of those are part of our job statistics," with the "only 8" referring to those eight graduates who at that time were still receiving fellowships, and the phrase "job statistics" referring to the NALP data, as you confirm in your response above.  But, it's not true that "only 8" students were included in the NALP job statistics; rather, those NALP statistics included lots of former fellowship recipients and lots of otherwise employed, unemployed, and otherwise occupied graduates, presumably in categories clearly labeled according to type.

No doubt you meant to communicate that only those eight (of 75) graduates then receiving fellowships were included in that particular section of the NALP report (i.e., the "now receiving fellowships" section), but instead you wrote that only those eight were included in the NALP "job statistics," without the necessary qualifier concerning category.

My point is that in your position, your job is to communicate clearly, especially about subjects in controversy where you possess information not readily ascertainable to your listeners.  You failed here, in a forum conducive to accuracy, which suggests that you might also have failed in speaking live with the seminar attendees, a forum not especially conducive to accuracy.  You now admit in the comment above that it is possible you were unclear at the forum, but that admission demonstrates that contrary to your post, there actually are three possibilities concerning your statement at the seminar:  (1) you lied; (2) you were misunderstood; or (3) you were unclear or inaccurate, albeit not intentionally so. 

My money is on option three, but in giving you the benefit of the doubt as to your intentions, it's nevertheless clear that you're still not communicating clearly on this important subject.
 on 4/5/2012 3:27 PM

Re: Clarity

Re: 3:12 PM's comments, the problem is not an unclear antecedent; the problem is the phrase "job statistics."  The dean should have written that "only 8 of those are included in our 'receiving fellowships' portion of the NALP data," not "only 8 are part of our job statistics."  I wouldn't be focusing on this misstatement if not for the dean's insistence that it was a true statement -- actually, it was not. 
 on 4/5/2012 3:32 PM

Can someone please explain to me what is so embarassing about fellowships?

If the fellowships are not, for the most part, figuring into the job statistics, why are people so worried about them? Giving out fellowships seems like a nice thing to do, not a duplicitous measure intended solely to raise employment numbers. Now, there are 13 students from the class of 2011 who have not found permanent employement after their fellowships - that is the number I would be worried about, not the 75 who got the fellowships in the first place.
 on 4/5/2012 4:08 PM

RE: Clarity

I think the comments to this blog post further prove that there are two different types of people commenting on this and following this blog:

1) people who understand that Michigan is doing whatever is possible to make things as clear as possible for prospective students while still well within the time frame for decisions to be made.  Even if it means that the yields might suffer or that the class might end up smaller than in other years.

2) people that are not going to be satisfied no matter how much information is disclosed because it's not the information THEY want and continuously find ways to twist facts and statements to better fit their arguments.

I hope the latter finds the data they're looking for at another school since this attitude can be quite detrimental to the overall experience that most people are looking for in a law school.   
 on 4/5/2012 4:47 PM

MacK

I am a 20 year litigator.  I read your posting and I read Campos - and I have to say, the next time you exhort a student to "think like a lawyer" make sure you are thinking like a lawyer.

Even taking your own version of your statement into account - it reads like a statement intended to be literally true, but giving a false impression of what transpired.

The basic question is simple - did Michigan report 75 graduates as employed to NALP who were in fact on fellowships.  Simple, clear issue.

Your statement "at the time we reported our NALP data, only eight of our graduates were on post-graduate fellowships" seems to be a neat little evasion.  You don't say what was in the NALP response, just that when it was sent to NALP there were in fact at that time just 8 fellowships outstanding.  But that does not mean Michigan reported 8, just that there were 8 left on the day the report went into the mail.

Now my problem if Michigan reported 75 (or significantly more than 8)  is that if I had you in a witness box - you would be comprehensively impeached.  Any jury would immediately see that the statement was crafted to give a false impression - while being literally true.  So why compose such an odd phrasing rather than address the issue directly.  The inference was that the real number was something you were aware of and that it was "not good." 
 on 4/5/2012 5:57 PM

Not Hearsay

It's an admission, or, at the very least a statement against the interest of the career planning dean by an agent of the Univ. of Michigan.

You'll probably learn this when the real lawyers -- the ones who actually practice -- put it in their motions.
 on 4/5/2012 8:12 PM

Yikes

I really don't think you're getting a fair shake. I've always appreciated his work, but Campos is reaching a bit in his blog post. He's obviously running out of material.

With that said, I was surprised when I learned that 70+ students received the fellowships. I was present when the question was asked at ASW. While you were completely honest with us, I do see why people feel misled. When I first read his post, I felt misled as well.

Thank you for updating the site and providing additional data. We're all extremely nervous about the debt and employment prospects. I had a blast at ASW and can't wait to join you in Ann Arbor this year. Keep up the good work!

Best,

E
 on 4/5/2012 8:35 PM

Lawyer Guy

The context of the conversation about fellowships is that it is merely a low cost, temporary ruse for a law school to shore up employment statistics, and that really good schools like UM, NYU and UVA, for example are funnelling rather large numbers of people into this kind of program.

My .02 is that you are not thrilled with this fact and so you answered the question in a way that was factually true but also betrayed the context of the matter.

 on 4/6/2012 2:05 PM

Dean Zearfoss' Response

For those questioning the clarity of Dean Zearfoss' response to the question posed at the ASW panel I can offer my own opinion since I was there. Dean Zearfoss answered the question very candidly and clearly. She in no way skirted around the issue or masked the fact that her answer was not exactly what the questioner had wanted since the full facts had not yet been gathered. She apologised for not having completed the study in time for the weekend (an apology that, I believe, she did not really have to make. On the contrary, her team should be praised for balancing the demands of vetting hundreds of applications, planning two excellent preview weekends, and simultaneously seeking to bring greater transparency to this often obfuscated issue. It is understandable that these things take time to process, particularly when you know that the findings will be so carefully scrutinized). She then referenced the '8 students' stat but followed that comment immediately by clearly declaring that the number of students who received fellowships was certainly higher and that all the information would be made available as soon as possible. I (and several other students with whom I have discussed this issue) were left in no doubt that if we wanted to know the full facts, we should not just take the '8 students' stat and leave it at that; rather, we should consult the impending study.

I do wish to make two things clear. First, I am not running to her defense in some self-serving attempt to puff up my future school - I have not yet committed to Michigan and there is still a good chance I will not attend. I am doing this purely because I feel she is facing some criticism that is wholly underserved (that is not to say that all of the criticisms here are necessarily unwarranted or that we should not critically assess the statistics). Second, the entire weekend effectively showed why Michigan rightly has a reputation for being honest and driven by a the desire to put their students first, even when either priority may potentially damage their rank or yield. Professors, students and alums all answered challenging questions frankly in ways that were occasionally unflattering for the law school. All ASWs are inevitably filled with panels and talks seeking to paint a perfect picture of life at X Law School, but I was delighted that I left Ann Arbor feeling like I had been given about as truthful an impression as was possible. Perhaps this was just me, but my instincts tell me I was certainly not in the minority in feeling this way.

Keep up the excellent work Dean Zearfoss. You are a major factor in why so many excellent students come to Michigan and why I am sure the school will rebound from these tough economic times and prosper in the legal job market in the coming years.
 on 4/6/2012 3:46 PM

Misunderstood commenter

I'm the prospective-student commenter (http://bit.ly/HtkZ6r) that Prof. Campos cites in his "more information" post, and I feel like I should apologize for unintentionally feeding Campos's rants. My intention was to point out that he had presented some pretty precise statistics without any sort of attribution. If I had read his post more thoroughly, I would have noticed that he and I were talking about completely different statistics. But the fact remains that I would expect a higher standard of attribution from someone professing to be a legal scholar, even in a blog post. I'm a little surprised at the over-the-top accusations that he has made based on a single comment, but then I guess, considering the source, I shouldn't be.  In the future I'll have to more strict about my personal rule of not "feeding the trolls" online.

Also, I agree with the rest of the commenters that the Dean said almost word-for-word what she wrote here--it was clear to me all along that there were more people who had fellowships at graduation but found employment before the reporting deadline. The data provided by Michigan Law has gone above and beyond what I expected going into the admissions process, and I don't feel that the Dean misled us at all.
 on 4/9/2012 1:30 AM

The real implication of the data...

I applaud Michigan's effort to give prospective students the benefit of transparent employment data, even when it shows some negative trends and exposes weaknesses in students' prospects.

My question to the university reagents and the administration of the law school is this:  How can you justifiably charge students more for tuition year over year when your own employment data shows that across the board graduates are making less money (in some practice areas, considerably less money) than they have in the past?

I understand that one year of negative data does not a trend make, however if the trend continues, I think that the great reputation of Michigan Law needs to be furthered not only in transparency, but in fairness as well.
 on 4/11/2012 2:54 PM

Clarity

people who understand that Michigan is doing whatever is possible to make things as clear as possible for prospective students while still well within the time frame for decisions to be made.  Even if it means that the yields might suffer or that the class might end up smaller than in other years.
 on 5/9/2012 2:58 AM