The schools may be adapting ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on the use of race in admissions.
by The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, November 17, 2022
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.
Yale Law Dean Heather Gerken in a statement this week called the U.S. News rankings, which have long influenced the perception of prestige, “profoundly flawed.” Yale has “reached a point where the rankings process is undermining the core commitments of the legal profession. As a result, we will no longer participate.” Harvard Law School quickly followed, and on Thursday UC-Berkeley Law pulled out.
The U.S. News rankings have plenty of shortcomings, though being run by a “for-profit magazine,” as Yale swiped in its statement, isn’t one of them. Dean Gerken says the U.S. News methodology penalizes law schools that send students into public-interest fellowships, and that its metrics on student debt don’t account properly for loan-forgiveness programs. Berkeley also noted a per student expenditure rating that pushes tuition prices up and is not a proxy for an excellent legal education.
But 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.
Students browsing law schools can still rely on required disclosures to the American Bar Association or other rankings such as Above the Law’s list, which focuses on employment and debt. The U.S. News rankings may hold too much sway over a law school’s internal practices and reputation. But what comes next may be worse for Americans who still believe in merit and equality of opportunity.