Dear UCLA Law Community,
As most of you know, a number of our peer schools have announced that they will not submit proprietary data this year to U.S. News and World Report for use in its annual law school rankings. After substantial and deliberate consultation with a variety of stakeholders, I write to tell you that, in the absence of significant and meaningful changes to the methodology employed in these rankings, we will also decline to participate this year.
Faced with the choice of where to attend law school, one of the most significant decisions of their lives, students reasonably search for some method of comparing the overall quality of law schools. Third-party rankings can provide a useful service in this regard if their methodology is transparent, if they value features of the schools’ programs that are reasonable proxies for educational quality, and if they provide incentives for schools to compete in ways that improve educational quality and ultimately benefit the legal profession.
Although no rankings can provide a perfect measure of quality, the U.S. News rankings are particularly problematic for a number of reasons:
The rankings disincentivize schools from supporting public service careers for their graduates, building a diverse student population, and awarding need-based financial aid. UCLA Law does all of these things, but honoring our core values comes at a cost in rankings points.
The rankings’ reliance on unadjusted undergraduate grade point average as a measure of student quality penalizes students who pursue programs with classes that tend to award lower grades (in STEM fields, for example), regardless of these students’ academic ability or leadership potential.
The rankings assess faculty and program quality solely on the basis of “reputation” ratings provided by a small number of lawyers, judges, and professors who cannot hope to have detailed knowledge of the nearly 200 schools they are asked to evaluate, rather than using more quantifiable measures.
And the rankings perversely reward schools for spending more and passing on the costs to their students, without regard for the value of the expenditures – a feature that also structurally disadvantages public law schools, which tend to spend less and charge less than private schools.
All of these features of the U.S. News rankings are inconsistent with UCLA Law’s values.
We are under no illusion that UCLA Law’s decision will have a substantial impact on how law schools are evaluated by U.S. News. Approximately 80 percent of a law school’s U.S. News “score” is based on publicly available data and the surveys of reputation that U.S. News itself conducts, so U.S. News undoubtedly will continue to rank all of the law schools, perhaps with only minor methodological adjustments. Nonetheless, it is important for us to use this moment to reinforce our values and do what we can to encourage positive change by withholding our cooperation. We are eager to work with U.S. News, or with any other organization that wishes to rank law schools, to help determine a methodology that can provide useful comparative information for potential students without creating harmful incentives for schools that fail to encourage the improvement of legal education.