Before dropping out of the rankings, Yale Law School took a hit on key metric

Amid free speech controversies, school’s ‘peer review’ score pushed it below the competition

Yale University in 2018 / Getty Images

Aaron Sibarium • November 17, 2022 5:00 am

Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken explains the school’s decision to withdraw from the US News and World Report ranking law schools as altruistic, arguing that “deeply flawed” rankings “deter programs that support careers in the public interest.”

But a closer look at those rankings suggests that Yale, which over the past year has been the site of a fierce free speech debate and has drawn unwanted attention for its response to controversies on campus, may have had a selfish reason to jump ship. According US News and World Reportof the published methodology, raising questions about how long it would continue to hold the top spot.

The “peer review” score is a measure of how deans and tenured professors across the country rate the quality of a law school on a scale of 1 to 5. Representing 25% of the overall ranking of each faculty, this measurement is the most important factor in US News and World Report law school rankings – and one of the reasons Yale consistently lands at the top of them.

For many years, the law school’s peer review score hovered between 4.8 and 4.9, which meant it generally matched or exceeded scores from Harvard and Stanford. But in March 2022 – amid free speech controversies, including the administration’s abuse and intimidation of a sophomore law student, that thrust the top-ranked school into the spotlight nationals – Yale’s peer review score fell to 4.6, its lowest in more than a decade.

While the drop didn’t dislodge Yale from its number one position overall, it did put the school behind Harvard and Stanford in reputation rankings, a sign that the law school’s perch was more precarious than never seemed there before. Further peer-review score successes could have pushed Yale into second or third place for the first time since US News and World Report began ranking law schools, smashing a major source of its prestige.

Hours after Yale’s announcement, Harvard Law said it would also withdraw from the rankings, a move it said had been in the works for “several months.” The school saw a slight drop in its peer review score, from 4.8 in 2021 to 4.7 in 2022.

Yale Law School did not respond to a request for comment.

In recent months, Gerken has struggled to fend off a series of public relations disasters related to the political climate on campus and the administration’s response to it.

Between September and October, 14 federal judges, including the 5th Circuit’s James Ho and the 11th Circuit’s Elizabeth Branch, said they would no longer hire Yale Law School clerks, citing free speech concerns. and intellectual diversity. They pointed to a September 2021 incident in which administrators pressured sophomore law student Trent Colbert to apologize for using the term “traphouse” in an email, as well an incident in early March in which hundreds of students disrupted a bipartisan panel on civil society. freedoms.

The day school boycott prompted Yale Law to issue a statement affirming its “commitment to the free and unfettered exchange of ideas,” which outlined a number of steps the law school was taking to protect the freedom of expression – a tacit indication that the administrators, including Gerken, are aware that they have a problem on their hands.

Gerken’s statement about the school’s decision to drop the ranking did not address the drop in its peer review score. Instead, she lambasted a “poorly designed” system that “squarely stands in the way of progress”, announcing that “the filing process undermines fundamental commitments of the legal profession”. As a result, she said, “we will no longer participate.”

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