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A good word for the Yale Law School

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We at LGM don’t often get a chance to say something nice about Yale Law School, so in a pre-holiday spirit of generous scrupulosity, it’s only fair to give praises to that institution for announcing that it will no longer participate in/cooperate with the US News law school rankings. Mere hours after this epochal news, the Harvard Law School followed suit, and I very much hope this starts a chain reaction where lesser but still in some limited sense somewhat prestigious schools like Stanford, Columbia, and the University of Illinois-Chicago join this estimable movement.

For a long time now I’ve been convinced that the law school rankings have provided an ideological superstructure that has allowed the basest of economically base motives to flourish in our little world. To wit, until about 30 years ago there were no law school rankings, because there was no real need for such a thing: everyone knew who the national law schools were; everyone knew who the respectable regional schools were; and everyone knew who the you only go there if you can’t get into a the former category of schools were.

There of course is still no actual need for law school rankings, because these broad hierarchical categories — the only categories that actually count — remain untouched by such rankings. The only thing the rankings do is allow students, faculty, and most especially and crucially law school and central university administrators to obsess on completely meaningless hierarchical distinctions within these broader categories. That’s why the constant complaining from status-obsessed freaks about how the “flaws” in the US News rankings need to be “fixed,” or how the rankings themselves should be replaced by some other ranking system altogether (there are several out there of course) completely misses the point.

The point is that the real function of the rankings — any such rankings — is that they provide a pseudo-empirical basis for constantly jacking up operating costs, because doing so is necessary to “compete” in this idiotic positional game. Law school deans can go to clueless central administrators and whinge about how their school is about to drop out of the top ten, top 20, first tier, top 100 etc etc, or has a chance to move into the same with just a little more “support,” meaning of course primarily higher tuition revenue being extracted from the students.

And the larger point is that this game is played not just in the law school world, but throughout American higher education, and it has played a huge if largely hidden role in the absurd run up in the cost of that education over the course of the last generation.

Collectively, the only way to win the rankings game is not to play it, and boola boola to Yale, if that’s the correct expression, for concluding that the angels want to wear their white shoes.

Update: As of this afternoon, UC-Berkeley has also withdrawn from the rankings. That’s 30% of the Top Ten, which is a nice start.

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