Paul L. Caron

Saturday, November 19, 2022

With Stanford, Columbia And Georgetown, 6 Of The T14 Refuse To Participate In The U.S. News Law School Rankings

Jenny S. Martinez (Dean, Stanford), Stanford Law School Will Not Participate in US News Law School Ranking:

Stanford Law (2022)Stanford Law School has made the decision to withdraw from the US News law school ranking. US News and other rankings have long been a topic of conversation and internal study by our faculty at SLS. We know that well-formulated rankings, along with other publicly available data, can provide a valuable service to prospective students. In the spirit of providing useful information to prospective students and improving the ability of law schools to do their best for students, we have been one of a number of law schools who have approached US News over time with concrete suggestions to improve its ranking methodology, to no avail.

Stanford Law has stood near the very top of the rankings for many years, and we are lucky to be in a position where the rankings do not significantly affect our decisions.  However, we agree with many of the points that other schools have presented about how the rankings methodology distorts incentives in ways that are harmful to legal education as a whole. For example, the US News ranking methodology inappropriately discourages public service by treating students whose schools provide fellowships to support such work much the same as it treats students who are unemployed. In a world where interdisciplinary expertise is increasingly important, it also treats students pursuing another advanced degree, such as an MBA or PhD, as unemployed. The ways in which it weights per-student expenditures and measures debt, including excluding schools’ public service loan repayment programs, further distorts incentives in ways that act against students’ interests. Stanford Law School is proud to be one of the few law schools that offers exclusively need-based financial aid, and believes more schools across all tiers of legal education would be able to emphasize need-based financial aid, admit students from all walks of life, and keep expenditures down if the rankings methodology were different.

By joining with the other schools that have chosen to withdraw from participation in the US News rankings this year, we hope to increase the chances that the methodology is seriously overhauled, not only to reduce perverse incentives but to provide clearer and more relevant information that prospective students would find genuinely useful in making decisions about which law schools best match their interests and needs. In the meantime, we will be compiling data that we hope will be considerably more transparent and usable than the information that US News provides and will better help applicants determine whether SLS meets their educational and career aspirations. 

Gillian Lester (Dean. Columbia), Columbia Law Will Not Participate in U.S. News Rankings:

Columbia (2017)Since its founding, Columbia Law School has been a leader in legal scholarship, education, and practice—an engine of inquiry and knowledge creation, a catalyst for pedagogical innovation and experiential learning, a launching pad for careers at the pinnacle of the profession. The values that guide our approach make us distinctive, and the vibrancy and diversity of our community set us apart.

This was as true more than 30 years ago, when U.S. News & World Report began to rank law schools, as it is today. It will be as true tomorrow as it will be generations from now. The excellence that has characterized a Columbia Law education—and the impact our graduates have around the world—has never depended on validation from U.S. News or any other media outlet.

The flaws in the U.S. News law school ranking system have been a source of concern for many years throughout the legal academy. Overall, the methodology creates incentives that work against schools’ interest in attracting and retaining classes of students with a broadly diverse set of qualities and experiences, and in supporting the widest possible array of career choices for their graduates—whether in the private sector, in public interest and government organizations, or in academia.

After careful consideration, it is clear that the case in favor of Columbia’s continued involvement has become increasingly weak. The potential benefits to be gained from continuing to share data with U.S. News are far outweighed by the constraints the rankings place on our ability to freely pursue our core scholarly, pedagogical, and programmatic objectives.

We have decided, therefore, not to participate in the U.S. News rankings.

TaxProf Blog coverage:

William M. Treanor (Dean, Georgetown), Georgetown Law Withdraws from US News & World Report Rankings:

Georgetown (2016)Since our founding, public service has been at the heart of Georgetown Law’s mission. We have strived to live by the Jesuit motto of “People for Others” – educating lawyers, legal scholars, and citizens committed to the struggle for justice and protecting the rights of the most vulnerable among us. As we have pursued these goals, we have also dedicated ourselves to providing the resources needed for the most promising students to attend the law school, regardless of their means.

For decades, the U.S. News & World Report rankings have used a scoring system that reflects a different set of priorities. Most significantly, the U.S. News scoring system discourages schools from devoting resources to helping students pursue careers in public interest, and it discourages schools from devoting resources to helping students of limited means undertake a legal education.

Over the past decade, I have repeatedly reached out to the leadership of U.S. News and urged them to devise better measures of educational quality, measures that would drive progress for students and legal education. Other deans have also made the case for change. Unfortunately, those efforts have been unsuccessful.

Because the U.S. News ranking system continues to encourage schools to pursue a vision of legal education that is at odds with the compelling educational values that define us as a community, Georgetown Law will no longer participate in the U.S. News law school rankings.

Our commitment to educating the whole person and to preparing our graduates for the service of others is clear. Georgetown Law has built the strongest clinical law program in the United States, giving our students the opportunity to launch their public interest careers before they graduate. In the last decade, we have placed more graduates in public service careers than any other top law school. We have supported their public interest careers with generous school-funded interest fellowships for graduates and through a generous loan forgiveness program. And we have helped make legal education more accessible to students – offering millions of dollars in need-based aid, and admitting more and more students from underrepresented groups including those from working class families and first-generation college students.

These achievements are at the core of Georgetown Law’s identity. We have pursued them despite the fact that the U.S. News law school rankings discourages them. Rankings formulas that over-emphasize GPA/LSAT scores, that refuse to credit public interest lawyers who are subsidized by school-sponsored fellowships as fully employed, that treat need-based financial aid as a disfavored use of resources, and that penalize schools that admit students who have to borrow to fund their legal educations are not rewarding quality education and are not advancing our profession’s high ideals.

Similarly, U.S. News assigns great weight to spending-per-student ratio, regardless of whether that spending advances educational quality or helps students. It thus rewards schools with huge endowments, simply because they have huge endowments, and it encourages schools to raise tuition.

Other schools in recent days have reached their own decision not to participate in U.S. News. It is a decision that I have considered for many years. After reflection and receiving input from other members of this community – faculty, students, alumni, and staff – I have decided that it is one that is consistent with Georgetown Law’s mission as a legal educator and servant of the public interest. In accordance with our values as a school, Georgetown Law will not participate in the U.S. News ranking.

TaxProf Blog coverage:

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