Why Elite Law and Medical Schools Can’t Stand U.S. News

From a Wall Street Journal commentary by Eric J. Gertler headlined “Why Elite Law and Medical Schools Can’t Stand U.S. News”:

Eric J. Gertler is CEO of U.S. News & World Report.

The decision by some elite law and medical schools to opt out of the U.S. News & World Report ranking surveys has ignited a national debate on meritocracy and equity. But lost in this discussion is the reason U.S. News ranks academic institutions and why our rankings are so important to aspiring students.

Choosing the right school is one of the most important decisions students will ever make. Besides being a significant investment of time and money, it is a critical first step to ensuring a student’s future career opportunities, earning potential, and quality of life. But absent U.S. News’s academic rankings, it’s difficult to find accurate, comprehensive information that empowers students to compare institutions and identify the factors that matter most to them. We are one of the few places that do.

Our rankings don’t capture every nuance. Academic institutions aren’t monolithic or static; comparing them across a common data set can be challenging. But we reject our critics’ paternalistic view that students are somehow incapable of discerning for themselves from this information which school is the best fit.

Moreover, the perspective of elite schools doesn’t fit with that of the broader law- and medical-school community. Our editors held meetings with 110 law deans following the outcry over our rankings. Excepting the top 14 law schools, almost 75% of the schools that submitted surveys in 2022 did so in 2023. For medical schools, the engagement level was higher.

While we know that our rankings are important to students, we’re incredulous that our critics blame our rankings for just about every issue academia confronts. Debates on campuses—whether on free speech, equity or the cost of degrees—have nothing to do with our rankings. We simply provide students with a destination for comprehensive information.

Our rankings also don’t prevent any school from pursuing greater diversity or transparency. Nor do they seem to prod schools to shine light on the most opaque part of admissions: how schools decide who they accept.

Instead, elite schools object to our use of a common data set for all schools because our rankings are something they can’t control and they don’t want to be held accountable by an independent third party.

There is added urgency as the Supreme Court considers a pair of cases on affirmative action that could change admission norms. Some law deans are already exploring ways to sidestep any restrictive ruling by reducing their emphasis on test scores and grades—criteria used in our rankings.

By refusing to participate, elite schools are opting out of an important discussion about what constitutes the best education for students, while implying that excellence and important goals like diversity are mutually exclusive.

Is it tolerable to leave schools unaccountable for the education they deliver to students? We think not.

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