An Important test for Moneyball Hiring Methods in Academia:

The Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville has recently hired University of Minnesota law professor Jim Chen as its next dean. Chen is a prominent legal scholar in several fields, and also a major advocate of Moneyball hiring strategies in legal academia, which he writes about on his highly recommended Money Law blog. I myself have defended Moneyball hiring strategies here and here. Just as Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane has used Moneyball strategies to build a superior baseball team with less money than his competitors, Moneyball advocates in academia have argued that schools can use such methods to build a better faculty and move up in the rankings, even relative to better-financed peer schools. In both baseball and academia, the Moneyball emphasis on statistical analysis can help identify promising "players" whose contributions are undervalued by more conventional metrics. Certainly, this approach was one of the keys to George Mason's rapid rise over the last few years.

To my knowledge, Louisville will be the second law school (after GMU) to place Moneyball advocates at the helm. Assuming that they give Chen enough autonomy to implement his ideas, this will be an interesting test for Moneyball methodology. If Louisville improves it faculty and rises in the rankings significantly over the next few years, it will be further evidence of Moneyball's effectiveness. The flawed, but widely used US News Law School ranking system currently has Louisville as a "Tier 3" school, which means that they consider it to be somewhere between no. 100 and no. 150 out of the roughly 190 AALS-accredited schools. I suspect they might be moving up soon.

Congratulations to Jim, and good luck!

Hanah Volokh (mail) (www):
I'm still unclear on why this "strategy" gets a clever name and lots of hype when it essentially boils down to "hire good people."
12.22.2006 4:37am
Leland (mail):
You might want to read the book, "Moneyball". It's not about hiring good people but properly evaluating undervalued people. Its like stocks. You can buy the best performing stocks, but you'll make more money buy purchasing the most undervalued stocks before they become the best performing stocks.
12.22.2006 8:48am
I'm still unclear on why this "strategy" gets a clever name and lots of hype when it essentially boils down to "properly evaluating" people.
12.22.2006 9:39am
Hanah Volokh (mail) (www):
Here's hoping that my professors "properly evaluate" my exams.
12.22.2006 10:19am
Remind me, what is the definition of an "undervalued" scholar, and how is it determined? Seems to me that most scholars (especially in the liberal arts) are vastly "overvalued" in the sense that there is a vast oversupply of PhDs, with more being minted every year, and thus you could easily replace a retiring tenured professor with three untenured adjuncts and still come out ahead financially. Why don't a lot of departments do that? Oh wait, they do!
12.22.2006 10:56am
Ryan Jerz (mail) (www):
"In both baseball and academia, the Moneyball emphasis on statistical analysis can help identify promising "players" whose contributions are undervalued by more conventional metrics."

That's about as concise of a Moneyball summary as you can get. I think this is very interesting and, while I was initially captured by the use of the word "Moneyball," it just boils down to doing things differently than everyone else. It's a risk, but there is a lot of reward to be earned. Good luck to them, and thanks for bringing this to light.
12.22.2006 10:59am
talboito (mail) (www):
Moneyball is almost as much about "renting" rather than "owning". Veteran (tenured) players cost a premium above untried rookies (associate professors).

Beane would nuture an underlooked player into a healthy reputation and then ultimately lose their talents to the big money.

I'm not sure if the nature of Academia favors this aspect of a Moneyball strategy in the least. Baseball teams have an immediate metric, today's win-loss record. Universities build a reputation over a longer period with consistent faculty producing excellent students and scholarship. Isn't that the point of tenure from the University's perspective?
12.22.2006 11:24am
Jake (Guest):
Is the content of the claim "I will use a Moneyball hiring process" any different from the claim that "I have a better model for predicting faculty success than anybody else"?

If the two statements are the same, it seems like success or failure will depend on the quality of the model, not the decision to use the model. The GMU model looks like it succeeded by removing the "conservatives are stupid" component of faculty evaluation common to other schools; can Louisville succeed with the same strategy, or will they have to come up with their own wrinkle on faculty evaluation?

Has Chen ever done anything to indicate that he will be able to better evaluate faculty than anybody else?
12.22.2006 11:43am
Drive By Comments:
Problem: Location.

GMU's success is not simply due to its hiring; rather, hiring + low cost of attendance + access to one of the major legal markets = rising in ranking.

Good faculty can only get a school so far - consider the major efforts that Duke needs to expend to keep up with the Joneses.
12.22.2006 11:52am
elChato (mail):
as I understood it, Beane's chief metric was a player's on-base percentage-- he treated that as the most important stat, and hired accordingly, and his team has consistently overperformed given its resources.

What would you look for in a potential law professor? They don't produce as many stats as baseball players. Grades, quality of schools attended, number of previous publications, are all pretty obvious and I would assume scrutinized by everyone. I'd be interested to hear from professors who've been through the process of hiring (or who've done the hiring), what things they believe are often overlooked but factor into a prof's success?
12.22.2006 12:37pm
How do "Moneyball" legal scholars generally feel about the adequacy of US News Rankings as a measure of school quality? My understanding of its critics was that the central flaw of those rankings is that it overemphasizes criteria that bear a dubious relationship to quality. If that critique is shared by Moneyball scholars -- which I just don't know -- wouldn't such a scholar expect little or no change in Louisville's US News rankings? In other words, which features of the Moneyball methodology are likely to translate into success in the US News rankings? Does US News not suffer from similar biases as the law school hiring market generally?
12.22.2006 6:56pm
Ilya Somin:
I'm still unclear on why this "strategy" gets a clever name and lots of hype when it essentially boils down to "hire good people."

Of course every strategy seeks to "hire good people." What's distinctive about the Moneyball approach is the way it goes about identifying who they are.
12.23.2006 1:26am
Leland (mail):
It would seem to me that a Moneyball approach in academia should do away with concepts like tenure over time. Tenure may be a tool for hiring at first, but it will eventually lead inefficiency if you can't get rid of overvalued professors.

Drezner concern about poaching is actually a positive to the Oakland A's and Billy Beane. Beane is able to dumb overvalued players for trade opportunities and sometimes extra cash. This allows him to stay lean and have the most opportunities to tweak his organization. In other words, turnover is a key aspect to the Oakland A's success. However, the ability to hold the rights of a drafted player as a monopoly for so many years is also key.

How does Money Law adapt to the differences in employment models between MLB and academia?
12.23.2006 7:02am