For more than a decade The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy (YCELP) has focused on developing and improving quantitative environmental performance measurement in order to provide a tool for nations to judge the effects of their environmental policy. As the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) has evolved and improved, the profile and proliferation of quantitative performance measurement in other fields have also grown. The margins of this growth is being partially captured in an ongoing YCELP project titled “Indicators In Practice.” In the meantime, one seemingly unrelated effort at performance measurement has captured our attention.
James C. Phillips and Professor John Yoo, both at the University of California-Berkeley, released a paper this month titled The Cite Stuff: Inventing a Better Law Faculty Relevance Measure. Their method attempts, as they say, “to provide a quantitative, albeit imperfect, measure of intellectual impact and productivity” based on “the number of times a scholar has been cited by his peers.” The paper not only presents a ranking for select faculty across the United States, it also breaks down the data into discrete fields, presenting the most cited faculty in a given area of law.
YCELP, of course, is inherently interested in understanding the most impactful environmental law faculty in the United States. YCELP is also inherently interested in having a sense of the diverse ways that others are using quantitative performance measurement. But this particular ranking offers something even more deserving of our attention. (So please forgive me for burying the lede, but we didn’t want to seem too proud).
Professor Dan Esty (YCELP Director on leave) and Professor Doug Kysar (interim Director of YCELP) were ranked as the two most cited faculty in the field of environmental law. This is an impressive recognition that speaks highly of the work of both professors and the efforts of YCELP to promote that work.
It is worth pointing out that many excellent professors who frequently publish in the field of environmental law were categorized in other fields such as administrative law or public law. Were these professors, such as Richard Revesz, Richard Stewart and Jody Freeman (categorized in administrative law) or Dan Farber (in public law) included instead in environmental law, the rankings would be different.
Any ranking will have certain limitations. The Environmental Performance Index, for example, is limited by the availability, quality and consistency of national environmental data. The Phillips and Yoo “Academic Performance Index” (as I’ve dubbed it) is limited by the necessarily subjective nature of categorizing faculty and selecting proxies for academic impact, productivity or, finally, quality. Ultimately though, the purpose of quantitative performance measurement is not the static ranking that it can create, but the verified improvement or tangible results of investment that those rankings can demonstrate.
The 2012 EPI included a pilot Trend EPI, highlighting both environmental improvement and decline across the globe and creating a starting point for policymakers to explore how real policy has impacted a country’s performance. Phillips and Yoo likewise make clear that “[o]ne of the values of data is to assist one in making decisions.” In the case of the Academic Performance Index the decisions relate not to national environmental policy but to law school hiring decisions.
The meaning of the new academic study is indeed nuanced, but the benefit of having such as study, as with the EPI, is significant. As Phillips and Yoo explain, quantitative measurement is “important in a profession that seeks not to collect knowledge for future generations like medieval monks, but desires to have an impact on the world now.”