Thursday, November 17, 2022
Dean Chemerinsky has issued this statement:
After careful consideration, Berkeley Law has decided not to continue to participate in the US News ranking of law schools. Although rankings are inevitable and inevitably have some arbitrary features, there are aspects of the US News rankings that are profoundly inconsistent with our values and public mission.
Berkeley Law is a public school, with a deep commitment to increasing access to justice, training attorneys who will work to improve society in a variety of ways, and to empowering the next generation of leaders and thinkers, many of whom will come from communities who historically were not part of the legal profession. We are also committed to excellence: in our programs, scholarship, financial support, research, and certainly among our students. We take pride in producing attorneys who are highly skilled, highly sought after, and dedicated to public service and pro bono. This is who we are.
Rankings have the meaning that we give them as a community. I do not want to pretend they do not. And rankings will exist with or without our participation. The question becomes, then, do we think that there is a benefit to participation in the US News process that outweighs the costs? The answer, we feel, is no.
We want to be specific about the basis for this assertion. It is not about railing against rankings or complaining that they “hurt” us in some way. However, there are specific issues that we have struggled with for years, and raised with leadership at US News to no avail. These are:
- Their ranking penalizes schools that help students launch careers in public service law.
Berkeley Law has a program where we provide students a fellowship for a year after graduation to work in a public interest organization. These positions include a salary comparable to an entry-level position in public service or public interest, as well as a stipend during study for the bar examination. We have done this for many years and 94 percent of those who receive such fellowships remain doing public interest law after the fellowship ends. But US News does not count these students as fully employed. This creates a perverse incentive for schools to eliminate these positions, despite their success and despite the training they provide for future public service attorneys.
Moreover, consistent with our public mission, we have one of the most favorable loan repayment assistance programs in the country. We have recently revised it to make it even more helpful to our graduates pursuing public interest and public service careers. US News pays no attention to this, measuring student debt but ignoring how schools are helping students who need assistance to repay it.
- The USNWR ranking formula disregards and discounts graduates who are pursuing advanced degrees.
We are pleased that every year some pursue Ph.D. and MBA degrees. More than pleased; we are a law school that trains scholars, and seeks to add new voices to legal academia and other university spaces. Yet these graduates count as “unemployed” in the US News methodology. While we maintain a faculty committee dedicated to helping graduates and students pursue legal academia, we are one of the few law schools that does. This limits access to an important field and keeps in place traditional barriers to diversifying academia.
- The rankings methodology creates incentives to de-prioritize things we think are critical to our profession and role in society.
One of the most pernicious aspects of the US News rankings is its measure of per student expenditures. There is no evidence that this correlates to the quality of the education received. This works to the disadvantage of schools that have lower tuition and therefore lower per student expenditures.
US News discounts per student expenditures in some areas of the country by a cost-of-living adjustment that has nothing to do with educational quality. Again, I have complained to US News about this for years to no avail.
USNWR looks at student loan debt without appropriate context, creating incentives for law schools to admit high-income applicants (and those from high-income/high-wealth families) who can “afford to pay,” and will not take on much student loan debt. It also incentivizes the elimination of need-based aid. We have preserved a need-based aid program because we believe it is the right thing to do, but if we eliminated it we could certainly increase median LSAT scores and GPA by channeling all resources into recruitment of those students. This, we feel, is wrong – yet we understand why some schools do this, and the answer is because they fear to do otherwise will hurt their rankings.
Nothing about Berkeley Law is fundamentally changed by this decision. We will be the law school we’ve always been, and we will strive to improve – in accordance with our values. Now is a moment when law schools need to express to US News that they have created undesirable incentives for legal education. Accordingly, Berkeley Law will not participate in the US News survey this year.
All of these points, except one, are sensible and well-taken. (If per capita expenditures are a factor, then they have to be adjusted for cost of living, otherwise it just gives a boost to schools in high cost-of-living areas who have to spend more money to operate. But they really should scrap per capita expenditures in toto.) Because Berkeley is declining to participate only this year (leaving the future open), that gives USNews.com an incentive to perhaps tweak its formula in response to some of the clearly legitimate concerns. I'm not sure that would be a great outcome, since too much of the formula is based on garbage data, and the weightings of the various elements are inexplicable.