by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Aaron Sibarium of the Washington Free Beacon assesses Yale Law School’s decision to remove itself from consideration in annual U.S. News rankings.
Yale Law School dean Heather Gerken is framing the school’s decision to pull out of the U.S. News & World Report law-school rankings as an altruistic one, arguing that the “profoundly flawed” rankings “disincentivize programs that support public interest careers.”
But a closer look at those rankings suggests that Yale, which has over the past year been the locus of a fierce debate about free speech and drawn unwanted attention for its response to campus controversies, may have had a selfish reason to jump ship. The elite law school was starting to slip on one of the key indicators that determine a law school’s overall ranking, according to U.S. News & World Report‘s published methodology, raising questions about how long it would continue to occupy the number-one slot.
The “peer assessment” score is a measure of how deans and tenured professors across the country rate a law school’s quality on a scale of 1 to 5. Accounting for 25 percent of each school’s overall rank, this metric is the single most important factor in U.S. News & World Report law-school rankings—and one reason why Yale consistently lands at the top of them.
For many years, the law school’s peer assessment score hovered between a 4.8 and a 4.9, which meant it usually tied or exceeded Harvard and Stanford’s scores. But in March 2022—amid the free speech controversies, including the administration’s abuse and intimidation of a second-year law student, that thrust the top-ranked school into the national spotlight—Yale’s peer assessment score dropped to 4.6, its lowest in over a decade.
Though the drop didn’t dislodge Yale from its number-one position overall, it did put the school behind Harvard and Stanford in the reputational rankings, a sign that the law school’s perch was more precarious than it once seemed.