Open Access News

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Law school is proud of its OA track record

The Chapman University School of Law (in Orange, California) issued this press release last Friday:

In an increasingly important objective measure of scholarly productivity, the Chapman University School of Law has been ranked #1 in the nation in terms of the number of scholarly articles posted in the past 12 months on the Social Sciences Research Network, or SSRN, a key online distribution network for legal scholarship.

The rankings [free registration required], which became available this week based on data through September 1, 2006, list Harvard Law School at #2 , New York University at #3 and the University of Minnesota at #4. Rounding out the top ten were UCLA (#5), Yale (#6), Duke (#7), and the University of Chicago, University of Illinois and George Washington University (tied at #8). Chapman law professors also took top honors in the number of scholarly articles posted by author, out of 1,500 professors listed nationwide: Professor Jeremy Miller was #1, Professor John Eastman was #3, and Professor Donald Kochan was #21.

The Chapman law faculty also broke into the Top 100 on SSRN in terms of the number of articles downloaded over the past 12 months....

Parham Williams, dean of the Chapman School of Law, noted that the accomplishment was even more impressive than it first appeared, as the majority of Chapman faculty only began posting their scholarship on SSRN this past summer....

Joe Hodnicki at Law Librarian Blog excoriates the Chapman statement:

US News ranked Harvard the second best law school in the country in its 2006 report. Chapman, well, Chapman is a Fourth Tier school. Harvard's academic peers rated the school and its faculty 4.8 on a scale of 5.0. Chapman's peer assessment score is 1.5, only four law schools scored lower than Chapman in peer assessment.  I conclude, reasonably I think, that these two school aren't exactly playing in the same league, not even in the same law school fantasy league....

[O]f the 145 Chapman Law documents posted in the SSRN digital depository in the last 12 months ending on September 1, 2006, a whooping 108 were submitted in August 2006 (and most of those were submitted on the last day of August). This has to be the most creative jag any law school faculty has ever experienced -- just-in-time productivity, no less.  But a closer examination reveals that the only person who was really productive in Orange, California in August was the person who uploaded the documents to SSRN, documents whose dates of publication ranged from 2006 to ... wait for it ... 1981. Yes, 1981!...

I hope the Chapman Law Library staff didn't spend its entire summer tracking down hardcopies for scanning!

Comment.  Note for non-lawyers:  SSRN is the OA repository of choice for legal scholarship in the US. 

Hodnicki is right that Chapman doesn't rank high on the standard criteria for evaluating law schools and he's right that Chapman's recent SSRN posts don't show recent productivity.  But since Chapman made neither claim, his arguments are beside the point except to put Chapman's real claim in a wider context.  Chapman claimed that it was doing better than other law schools at providing open access to its research output --which is true and commendable. 

There are many criteria for judging the worth of a law school.  (Disclosure:  I graduated from Northwestern Law School in 1982.)  Willingness to provide open access to its research output is new, and Chapman is right to say that it's "increasingly important".  It may not be in the US News set of criteria, but it's a valid measure of a school's commitment to live up to its mission to share the knowledge it generates. 

I do hope that the Chapman's law librarians spent the summer tracking down hardcopies for scanning.  I also hope they spend regular time helping faculty (or those who need help) post OA copies of their born-digital research.  I hope they work just as hard next year as they did last year and I hope that other law school librarians will try to catch up with them. 

And by the way, I also hope that US News will soon add, as one criterion among many others, the percentage of a school's annual research output on deposit in OA repositories.  I hope all similar guides do the same, whether they are evaluating law schools, medical schools, graduate schools, or any other kind of research institution.