On Wednesday, Harvard Law School and Yale Law School issued a blow to U.S. News & World Report’s Best Law School Rankings, announcing that they will no longer participate in the influential rankings system. As grounds for their withdrawals, the deans of Yale and Harvard law schools claimed that some of the rankings’ metrics along with its one-size-fits-all approach exacerbate socioeconomic disparities amongst law schools. Prior to their departures, Yale Law School was ranked #1 (a spot which they held since 1990), and Harvard Law School #4 out of the 192 law schools included in the rankings.
According to U.S. News, law school rankings are based upon the “successful placement of graduates, faculty resources, academic achievements of entering students, and opinions by law schools, lawyers and judges on overall program quality.” Metrics used to calculate rankings include assessments from peers and law professionals, employment rates, bar passage rates, GPAs, average student debt, and university resources. The data used to calculate the rankings is self-reported by each university.
In an interview with Reuters, Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken stated that “U.S. News continues to adopt metrics that undermine the legal profession and legal education.” She expounded in an address to the law school’s community on the school’s website, alleging that “one of the most troubling aspects of the U.S. News rankings is that it discourages law schools from providing critical support for students seeking public interest careers and devalues graduates pursuing advanced degrees.” In particular, both Harvard and Yale pointed to the average student debt metric as reductionistic and potentially misleading. For example, Dean Gerken and Harvard Law School Dean John Manning note that the U.S. News & World rankings do not take into account student loan forgiveness for law school graduates pursuing careers in public service that pay a lower salary. Gerken claims that by failing to consider this key metric, “when law schools devote resources to encouraging students to pursue public interest careers, U.S. News mischaracterizes them as low-employment schools with high debt loads.” In addition, Manning’s statement highlights that the debt metric may encourage law schools to admit students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds who do not require loans, further stratifying the landscape of law school enrollment. He writes that “to the extent the debt metric creates an incentive for schools to admit better resourced students who don’t need to borrow, it risks harming those it is trying to help.”
The universities’ exits mark the second time that U.S. News & World rankings have come under fire with Ivy League institutions this year. In July, Columbia was removed from its #2 ranking due to unsubstantiated data used in evaluating its ranking. While Columbia’s unseating was the result of the university’s own misreported data, it raised questions about the means by which U.S. News collects and verifies the information used to calculate their rankings. These concerns were reiterated by Gerken, whose letter to the Yale community critiques the fact that information is “supplied by the law schools solely to U.S. News.”
In response to the schools’ claims, U.S. News CEO Eric Gertler stood by the magazine’s methodologies, stating to CNN: “As part of our mission, we must continue to ensure that law schools are held accountable for the education they will provide to these students and that mission does not change with this recent announcement.”