To defend its rankings, US News targets the best law schools

U.S. News & World Report said little last fall when Yale, Harvard and other elite law schools announced they would no longer submit data for the publication’s rankings, accusing the influential list of driving inequality.

But in the past few days, American news has revealed the answer. As part of a public relations campaign, the publication accused the schools of trying to avoid accountability for student enrollment and outcomes, and linked the boycott to an upcoming Supreme Court decision that could end affirmative action.

“Some law deans are already looking for ways to get around any restrictive rulings by de-emphasizing test scores and grades, the criteria used in our rankings,” wrote Eric J. Gertler, executive chairman and chief executive of US News. in The Wall Street Journal.

The conflict is a sign that US News won’t shy away from a staunch defense of the rankings, which are criticized by many universities but popular with families — making them potentially another flashpoint in the nation’s education debate.

On Wednesday, Harvard Law School held a conference on the rankings that was largely critical of some of the schools’ complaints: that the rankings used a flawed measure of student debt that schools could game by accepting more paying students; that the emphasis on grades and test scores encouraged merit-based aid to the detriment of need-based aid; and that the methodology undermined efforts to support graduate careers of public interest. (US News has already promised to address some of these criticisms.)

At the conference, the keynote speaker, Education Minister Miguel Cardona, attacked the publication.

“It’s time to stop worshiping at the false altar of US News & World Report,” he said. “It’s time to focus on what really matters — delivering value and improving mobility.”

But US News had already responded that morning in a full-page ad in The Boston Globe. In an open letter to Cardona, the publication defended the ranking and urged law schools to publish even more data. Had to dig into the high cost of a law degree, saying, “As tuition continues to skyrocket, students need reliable information to guide their decision-making.”

Gertler’s opinion, released the day before, was even more strident, suggesting that elite law and medical schools want to be able to admit students with lower scores and grades if, as expected, the Supreme Court rules against affirmative action in two cases now pending against Harvard and the University of North Carolina.

The schools say that their complaints are fundamental.

“We’ve never really paid attention to US news and its ratings,” Heather Gerken, dean of Yale Law School, said in an interview Thursday. “We’re talking about the values ​​of legal education and the profession.”

Gertler said the purpose of the rankings was to use the data to measure the return on investment for students, not necessarily to measure the values ​​the deans wanted to instill.

“We value public interest service,” he said in an interview Thursday. “But many go to law school to go into private practice, so that has to be measured as well.”

The revolt against the rankings began in November, when Yale Law School announced it would no longer cooperate in providing data to US News. Harvard followed within hours, followed days later by Stanford, Georgetown, Columbia and UC Berkeley law schools. Among the schools that dropped out were many that were consistently in the top 14 of the US News list of about 200 schools.

In January, Harvard Medical School announced it would also drop the rankings, followed by other elite medical schools such as Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Some law school deans said the rankings helped set them apart in the eyes of prospective students.

Peter B. Rutledge, dean of the University of Georgia School of Law, said his school will continue to participate in the rankings because they are a source of consumer information and because they have historically demonstrated relatively low school student debt. graduates. After the law schools announced the boycott, US News said they would no longer look at student debt or per-student spending.

“It’s the topic of every kitchen conversation among applicants and their families as they decide to pursue law school,” Rutledge said.

One panelist, Deirdre A. Keller, dean and law professor at Florida A&M, a historically black university in Tallahassee, said the ranking’s emphasis on LSAT scores, GPA and selectivity was “inherently problematic” for her school. . To make selectivity a hallmark of quality, she added, “we would have to act against our mission.”

More important, she said, was the support students received from the school to succeed.

“We have a job to diversify the profession,” she said.

At least one panelist, however, warned that a new ranking system may not be the answer. Christopher Norio Avery, who teaches microeconomics and statistics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, said changing the system “has exciting opportunities for growth, but could have a number of unintended consequences.”

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