Paul L. Caron

Monday, November 21, 2022

U.S. News Law School Rankings, ABA Optional LSAT, And Harvard Affirmative Action Supreme Court Case

US News (2023)Wall Street Journal Editorial, Yale and Harvard Law Unrank Themselves:

Yale and Harvard law schools said this week they will no longer participate in the annual law-school rankings published by U.S. News & World Report. Readers may see no one to root for in a showdown between elite schools and the higher-ed ratings complex, but there’s a point to be made about what appears to be a flight from merit and transparency at these schools. ...

Dean Gerken gave away the game when she wrote: “Today, 20% of a law school’s overall ranking is median LSAT/GRE scores and GPAs. While academic scores are an important tool, they don’t always capture the full measure of an applicant. This heavily weighted metric imposes tremendous pressure on schools to overlook promising students, especially those who cannot afford expensive test preparation courses.”

This sounds like cover for a desire by Yale to be free to admit students with lower test scores in service to diversity, but without taking a hit to its exclusive reputation. Yale has long been No. 1 in the U.S. News rankings.

The LSAT isn’t perfect, but it is a good predictor of success in law school, particularly as grade inflation has rendered GPAs far less meaningful. The LSAT’s influence is also an equalizer. For the price of a prep book, a low- or middle-income applicant can use an excellent score to compete with thousands of affluent applicants with polished resumes or connections. Yet progressives have long hoped to kill the LSAT along with high-school standardized testing.

The timing here is notable given the Supreme Court may soon strike down the use of racial preferences in college admissions. The Yale and Harvard announcements look like attempts to adapt in advance. This is a reminder to the Justices that college administrators will find a way to skirt any three-pronged diversity test they might devise, or some other putative judicial compromise.

Josh Blackman (South Texas), Judge Ho Boycotts Yale. Yale Boycotts U.S. News Rankings.:

Yale Law School is withdrawing from the rankings compiled by the U.S. News World Report. The rationale? The rankings are biased against the progressive institution! ...

I would add one other possible rationale. This decision was made in the shadow of Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard. The Supreme Court will very soon make it difficult for elite private universities to use racial preferences for admission. Post-SFFA, the law school could no longer justify wide gaps between admission rates for applicants of different races. They can no longer rely on "personal" scores and other subterfuges. As a result, if Yale wants to keep its racial diversity numbers high, the overall LSAT and GPA scores would have to drop. And that decrease would affect the law school's rankings. ... Withdrawing from the U.S. News program now gets ahead of those shifts.

The Nation, Is the U.S. News Ranking System Finally Starting to Crumble?:

Without “race-conscious” admissions, schools will have to do a better job of not just providing opportunities for low-income students but also providing the kind of professional outcomes those students want. That means more financial aid, more postgraduate debt forgiveness programs, more public interest fellowships, and less concern about the standardized-test-taking abilities of incoming students eager to take advantage of these programs. All of these things would depress a school’s ranking in the eyes of U.S. News. Yale and Harvard are setting themselves up to compete in a post-affirmative-action world by providing the kinds of assistance and opportunities that will incentivize the broadest cross section of students to apply to their schools in robust numbers.

New York Times, As More Top Law Schools Boycott Rankings, Others Say They Can’t Afford to Leave:

Their boycott is part of a broader movement to increase access to law school. On Friday, a panel of the American Bar Association voted to stop requiring accredited law schools to mandate the Law School Admission Test or Graduate Record Examination, making standardized testing optional for students applying in the fall of 2025. Critics say the tests hinder diversity, and the association’s decision comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is reconsidering affirmative action in higher education.

Brian Leiter (Chicago), Stanford Is Out...:

As the NYT story also makes clear, what is driving this is the impending end of "diversity" as a legally permissible consideration in admissions--the NYT even links the boycott of to the ABA's recommendation of dropping the LSAT for the same reason.   The suggestion would be that places like Yale, committed to diversity, are prepared to disregard numbers in order to admit a diverse class, but in so doing they endanger their position in their motive to withdraw preemptively.  I do not know whether this is true, but it is not implausible.

Washington Free Beacon, Before Pulling Out of Rankings, Yale Law School Took a Hit on Key Metric:

Yale Law School dean Heather Gerken is framing the school's decision to pull out of the U.S. News & World Report law-school rankings as an altruistic one, arguing that the "profoundly flawed" rankings "disincentivize programs that support public interest careers."

But a closer look at those rankings suggests that Yale, which has over the past year been the locus of a fierce debate about free speech and drawn unwanted attention for its response to campus controversies, may have had a selfish reason to jump ship. The elite law school was starting to slip on one of the key indicators that determine a law school's overall ranking, according to U.S. News & World Report‘s published methodology, raising questions about how long it would continue to occupy the number-one slot.

The "peer assessment" score is a measure of how deans and tenured professors across the country rate a law school's quality on a scale of 1 to 5. Accounting for 25 percent of each school's overall rank, this metric is the single most important factor in U.S. News & World Report law-school rankings—and one reason why Yale consistently lands at the top of them.

For many years, the law school's peer assessment score hovered between a 4.8 and a 4.9, which meant it usually tied or exceeded Harvard and Stanford's scores. But in March 2022—amid the free speech controversies, including the administration's abuse and intimidation of a second-year law student, that thrust the top-ranked school into the national spotlight—Yale's peer assessment score dropped to 4.6, its lowest in over a decade.

Derek Muller (Iowa), Mixed Motives, Many Questions as Yale, Harvard "Drop Out" of the USNWR Law Rankings:

Yale and Harvard each experienced an unprecedented drop in their peer scores this past year. Harvard dropped to a tie for 4th last year, down from its typical “top three” status. Some may be attributable to these rankings decisions; others maybe not.

So I’m watching closely to see how other schools respond. Frankly, there are benefits to USNWR for law students. They roughly approximate school quality, albeit extremely imperfectly. They can help prospective students, especially those new to the legal profession, with some rough guides of quality. Obviously, they create some bad incentives for law schools, and law students can too easily conflate rank with quality, or over-rely on the rankings.

But given how difficult it is for the ABA to revoke accreditation, USNWR offers at least some quality control for law schools, or at least some law schools. The bar exam is another bound of quality control for law schools. We’ll see if other schools jump on board, and how it may affect school choices moving forward.

Stephen Carter (Yale), Yale Starts an Exodus From a Rank Tradition:

I am delighted that Yale Law School, where I have taught for more decades than I care to remember, has decided to withdraw from the US News and World Report rankings. No, I didn’t have advance warning, but the decision is one I’ve advocated for years.

Yale’s example was swiftly followed by the law schools at Harvard, UC Berkeley and Georgetown. As of this writing, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania are expected to be next. More defectors surely wait in the wings. Each school that leaves deprives US News of the vital data that it uses to create its rankings. After three decades of dominance, the rankings might be on the verge of collapse.

Some cynics wonder whether the sudden “run” on the rankings is a complicated ploy to get around whatever the Supreme Court decides on affirmative action, but no conspiracy theories are necessary to explain what’s happening. Because rankings of colleges and professional schools, though they have been around for a century or more, were a bad idea from the start.

U.S. News coverage:


U.S. News Response to Boycott

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