UC Berkeley, Stanford join top law schools’ boycott of U.S. News & World Report rankings

Students walk on campus at UC Berkeley
Students walk on campus at UC Berkeley. whose law school announced Thursday that it would withdraw from U.S. News & World Report rankings
(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

UC Berkeley and Stanford law schools have announced they will withdraw from U.S. News & World Report’s closely watched rankings of higher education institutions, saying the ratings’ methodology penalizes schools that encourage public service and low costs.

The decision last week by the two premier California institutions, both among the nation’s top law schools, marks another blow to the influential ratings service after Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Georgetown also withdrew from participation, citing U.S. News’ methodology.

“Although rankings are inevitable and inevitably have some arbitrary features, there are aspects of the U.S. News rankings that are profoundly inconsistent with our values and public mission,” UC Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said in a statement.


“Now is a moment when law schools need to express to U.S. News that they have created undesirable incentives for legal education,” he said.

Stanford Law Dean Jenny Martinez said her institution also shared the concern that U.S. News’ methodology “distorts incentives in ways that are harmful to legal education as a whole.”

“By joining with the other schools that have chosen to withdraw from participation in the US News rankings this year, we hope to increase the chances that the methodology is seriously overhauled, not only to reduce perverse incentives but to provide clearer and more relevant information that prospective students would find genuinely useful in making decisions about which law schools best match their interests and needs,” Martinez said in a statement.

U.S. News officials said their organization would continue to rank the nearly 200 or so fully accredited law schools, regardless of whether the institutions agree to submit their data. Much of the information used for the rankings is publicly available.

“The U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings are for students seeking the best decision for their law education. We will continue to fulfill our journalistic mission of ensuring that students can rely on the best and most accurate information in making that decision,” Eric Gertler, executive chairman and chief executive of U.S. News, said in a statement. “As part of our mission, 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 these recent announcements.”

Other California law schools said they were discussing the issue, including UCLA, UC Irvine, UC Davis and UC Hastings, which will be renamed UC College of the Law, San Francisco next year.


“We are monitoring this situation and are having internal conversations about it,” UC Hastings Chancellor and Dean David Faigman said in a statement. “I share the concerns about U.S. News that have been raised by the deans at Yale, Harvard and Berkeley and plan to continue to pay close attention to this developing issue.”

UC Irvine Law Dean Austen Parrish said the law schools that dropped out of the rankings “raise important long-standing concerns” about the service, which his institution is evaluating.

Chemerinsky said the ranking service’s methodology raised specific issues that Berkeley “struggled with for years,” but discussions about them with U.S. News have been fruitless. He said the rankings penalize schools that help students launch careers in public service law, discount those with low tuition and disregard Berkeley’s favorable loan repayment program.

Berkeley Law, for instance, provides students a fellowship for a year after graduation to work in a public interest organization. Students receive a salary comparable to an entry-level position in public service or public interest and a stipend during study for the bar examination. Nine of 10 students who receive a fellowship remain in public service law, he said.

But U.S. News does not count these students as fully employed, creating a “perverse incentive for schools to eliminate these positions, despite their success and despite the training they provide for future public service attorneys,” Chemerinsky said.

He also called the ranking service’s measure of per-student expenditures “one of the most pernicious” issues because law schools that spend more get a ratings boost despite a lack of evidence that higher spending correlates with a higher-quality education. He said that metric disadvantages schools with lower tuition.


Chemerinsky said U.S. News discounts per-student spending by cost-of-living expenses — penalizing schools in pricey California areas like Berkeley, Westwood and Palo Alto. He said his law school’s statistical analysis showed that the cost-of-living-adjustments alone lowered Berkeley’s U.S. News ranking of No. 9 and elevated Yale, which is No. 1, over Stanford, which is No. 2.

“This makes absolutely no sense — it has nothing to do with measuring the quality of education,” Chemerinsky said in an interview.

In addition, Chemerinsky said, the ranking service creates incentives for law schools to admit affluent applicants who do not need to take on student loan debt and encourages them to eliminate need-based aid. If Berkeley only gave merit-based aid, it would admit students with higher grades and test scores, which would boost its ranking. Yet Berkeley retains need-based aid to help draw diverse applicants, including those from low-income and marginalized communities, he said.

Martinez also criticized the way the U.S. News methodology discounts schools that offer financial aid to needy students.

“Stanford Law School is proud to be one of the few law schools that offers exclusively need-based financial aid, and believes more schools across all tiers of legal education would be able to emphasize need-based financial aid, admit students from all walks of life, and keep expenditures down if the rankings methodology were different,” she said.

Chemerinsky acknowledged rankings have meaning and would continue with or without Berkeley’s participation. But he said they do not adequately reflect the values of his public institution, which is deeply committed 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.”


And the law school is not wanting for applicants. This year, 6,500 candidates vied for 280 seats.

“Nothing about Berkeley Law is fundamentally changed by this decision,” Chemerinsky said. “We will be the law school we’ve always been, and we will strive to improve — in accordance with our values.”