Since we have been having a discussion about BYU, I thought I would post a little bit about BYU and my particular discipline: law. Although I went to BYU as an undergrad, I didn’t go there for law school. Still, I have friends that did, I know some of the faculty, and I have always been interested in the school. Here are some of my impressions:
My impression is that the students are quite a bit better than the faculty. What I mean by this is that normally a student body of the quality of BYU Law School would be matched with a faculty of greater quality than that of the BYU Law School.
I think that what has happened is that the quality of the student body has been steadily increasing. However, the entire student body of a law school turns over in three years. Almost thirty years after its founding, BYU’s entire faculty has not yet turned over. The result is that the student body increases in quality much faster than does the faculty. This is, I think, reinforced by the fact that professors seem to go to BYU and stay there, even though in the rest of academia a solid, middle ranked school like BYU would be a stepping stone in the climb of many professors. I think that the religious nature of the school is mainly responsible for this come and stay phenomena.
Without disparaging the older faculty, many of whom are extremely smart and well qualified, my sense is that on average the new professors being hired at BYU are of higher quality than in the past. It is also my sense that a large portion of the BYU faculty will turn over in the next ten years. When this happens, I think that you will see another jump for BYU in the rankings as the younger faculty increases in size and moves into their academic prime.
For such a young school, BYU’s rise to its current status is really quite amazing. It seems to me that it is a school like George Mason that is getting better, in contrast to schools like Northwestern or Utah, that seem to be not quite as good as once they were. (For what it is worth, I would also put my law school alma mater, Harvard, in the category of not-as-good-as-they-once-were law schools.)
As I understand it, BYU Law School is currently searching for a new dean. It will be interesting to see who they pick. I think that unless the new dean places a much greater emphasis on scholarly activity by the BYU faculty that BYU may have risen as far as it is going to go.
[An earlier version of these comments was posted to the ldslaw email discussion list]