The law school at the University of California at Berkeley is pulling out of U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking. It’s the third top-10 school to quit the magazine’s list in less than 48 hours. Yale Law School made the first announcement on Wednesday morning, followed by the school at Harvard.
In a message to the law-school community, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of Berkeley Law, made some points that echoed those of Heather K. Gerken, Yale Law School’s dean, in her announcement: that the rankings discourage institutions from admitting low-income students, and from supporting students interested in public service. “There are aspects of the U.S. News rankings that are profoundly inconsistent with our values and public mission,” Chemerinsky wrote. (A spokesperson for the magazine disputed similar critiques to The Chronicle on Wednesday.)
The schools did not coordinate these actions, said Debra Kroszner, a spokeswoman for Yale Law School: “Our decision-making process was completely independent.”
But law-school leaders had been discussing what they saw as problems with the U.S. News formula for some time. A few years ago, a group of deans wrote a letter to U.S. News editors, outlining their complaints. Nothing changed, Gerken said.
College rankings in general have long drawn criticism for prizing high test scores and institutional wealth over creating social mobility for students. However, historically, leaders at most colleges nevertheless participated, calculating that they have more to lose than gain from quitting in protest. Particularly for law schools in the “middle” or “upper middle” of the rankings, “it means a lot to prospective students, potentially, when you drop or go up in the rankings,” said Michael Sauder, a professor of sociology at the University of Iowa who studies rankings. “So it’s a lot harder for those schools to take the risks of not participating.”
For those at the top, however, the risks are perhaps less. And perhaps, as Gerken said on Wednesday, “Now is the time to take a step.”