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- At least two other law schools dropped from US News & World Report’s top law school rankings over the weekend, as Stanford Law said Friday it was withdrawing and Michigan Law said Sunday it would not participate. On Monday, Duke Law and Northwestern University Law School joined the exodus.
- Michigan Law Dean Mark West credited Yale University Dean Heather Gerken, for being the first among a number of top law school leaders, saying Wednesday the institution will not participate in the rankings amid concerns its methodology discourages support for public interest careers and low-income students. “Although we have had ongoing discussions in the quad about breaking away from the rankings for years, it would have been difficult for us to take this step alone.” West wrote in a public letter.
- Stanford withdrew in hopes of encouraging US News to revise its methodology. Its dean, Jenny Martinez, required “clearer and more relevant information” that students will find useful.
Yale Law School said Wednesday it will stop participating in the US news list. Its Dean, Gerken, has harshly criticized the ranking for discouraging law schools from promoting public interest careers and advanced degrees.
Harvard Law joined on the same day, meaning two of the highest-ranking institutions on the list had rejected her — Yale is No. 1, while Harvard, with Columbia University Law School, is No. 4.
Other high-level institutions soon followed. The University of California, Berkeley dropped out Thursday, taking out the ninth-place institution. Columbia Law School did so Friday, as did Georgetown Law at No. 14.
Stanford adds law school No. 2 to list of those resigning, while Michigan adds No. 10. Duke is No. 11 and Northwestern is No. 13. Combined, they make up at least nine of US News’ top 15 law schools have now told the publication they will not be broadcasting data for the list.
US News has pledged to continue evaluating all of the country’s accredited law schools, regardless of whether they submit data. The publication respects law schools’ decision not to share information, but will continue to provide comparative information for students, according to its lead data strategist Robert Morse, wrote Thursday.
Michigan Law Dean West acknowledged in his letter that US News and other publications can still rate law schools regardless of whether the institutions participate.
Michigan Law would not be dissuaded.
“Never mind,” West wrote. “We will remain focused on providing the best possible legal education and supporting our community – including specifically the human-centric factors that rankings have a hard time measuring.”
West has called the US news ranking opaque. The publication doesn’t make public much of the data that feeds its list, West wrote. Changes to ranking methodology are often announced after they are made or are never explained, and US News “does not verify or authenticate the data,” according to West.
West called the situation unfair and, at worst, “an unregulated opportunity for manipulation.”
Stanford Law Dean Martinez claimed the institution does not allow its behavior to be materially influenced by rankings. But its leaders agree with others who fear the rankings will skew schools’ incentives and harm legal education as a whole.
Still, Martinez wasn’t ready to dismiss the idea of law school lists.
“We know that well-formulated rankings, along with other publicly available data, can provide a valuable service to prospective students,” Martinez wrote. “In the spirit of providing useful information to prospective students and enhancing law schools’ ability to do their best for students, we were one of several law schools that came forward with specific suggestions over time to improve their ranking methodology US News have contacted, in vain.”
The law school decisions mark a sharp escalation in decades of grievances about US news and the college rankings industry. Many colleges publicly tout their rankings each year, although some presidents privately complain about the perverse pressures the lists put on their behavior. A handful of colleges have no longer participate in the lists or threatened with it.
It’s not entirely clear what vision for new admissions would take shape if college rankings suddenly collapsed – and there’s concern that alternatives for students aren’t significantly better.
Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle wrote on Sunday “The alternative to rankings is not an ideal world in which every prospective student does thorough, holistic research on every school they apply to, carefully considering job placement prospects, cultural fit, faculty research profiles, and so on . The alternative is people passing the relative prestige of the school’s name, plus recruiting materials that may (probably not?) give students nearly the full story.