Three of the most prestigious US law schools have withdrawn from US News & World Report’s influential rankings system, in a blow to the credibility of a tool widely used by prospective students, alumni and recruiters.
Berkeley on Thursday joined Yale and Harvard in condemning the assessment, saying that by focusing on test scores and failing to reflect financial aid it undermined their efforts to admit students from low-income backgrounds to train and pursue public service careers.
Heather Gerken, dean of Yale Law School, which has consistently been the top-ranked school since the listings began in 1990, called them “profoundly flawed” in a blog post and added: “They disincentivise programs that support public interest careers, champion need-based aid, and welcome working-class students into the profession.”
John Manning, dean of Harvard Law School, wrote that the rankings “work against law schools’ commitments to enhancing the socio-economic diversity of our classes; to allocating financial aid to students based on need; and, through loan repayment and public interest fellowships, to supporting graduates interested in careers serving the public interest”.
Erwin Chemerinsky, law school dean at the public University of California, Berkeley, ranked ninth this year, swiftly followed, calling the rankings “profoundly inconsistent with our values and public mission”.
The boycotts will place fresh pressure on US News, once a current affairs print magazine that has increasingly focused in recent years on online rankings ranging from education and healthcare to mutual funds, travel destinations and used-car sales.
Its education rankings are widely read by those applying for bachelors and masters degrees in the US, and are seen as a powerful marketing tool by many universities seeking to attract applicants.
So great is their influence — and the pressure on educational leaders to perform well in rankings — that a number of universities and colleges have been subject to investigation over manipulations in order to perform well.
Moshe Porat, the dean of Temple University’s Richard J Fox School of Business and Management until 2018, was this year given a 14-month prison sentence and fined $250,000 after being convicted of fraud for inflating its performance.
Columbia University in June said that it would not participate in the undergraduate rankings after one of its mathematics professors criticised the way it flattered class sizes, spending and faculty education levels.
Broader criticisms of the rankings are that many of the data points used measure “inputs”, such as the number of applicants per place and test scores, rather than outcomes for students. A high proportion of the weightings is also derived from a subjective poll that asks schools to assess their rivals.
Gerken told the Financial Times that she supported transparency and was interested in alternative rankings but was committed to a “holistic admissions” policy not focused on test scores — in which richer and tutored applicants tend to perform better. She said a quarter of her students were now the first generation to attend university and 10 per cent were below the poverty line.
“This generation is inheriting impossible problems, so we need to bring every great mind to the table to try to solve them.”
In an emailed statement to the FT, Eric Gertler, executive chair and chief executive of US News, said: “We will continue to fulfil our journalistic mission of ensuring that students can rely on the best and most accurate information in making that decision . . . We must continue to ensure that law schools are held accountable for the education they will provide to these students and that mission does not change with this recent announcement.”
The FT ranks business schools, including a number in the US. Among the factors it considers are alumni salaries, satisfaction and value for money, as well as the diversity of faculty and students.