How the 'new' law school rankings serve the DNC

The Chronicle of Higher Education, a politically partisan higher education publication and lobby platform headquartered in Washington, D.C., recently sought to report on how law school rankings may have changed due to a handful of progressive institutions led by Yale, Harvard, and Berkeley, which protested the U.S. News & World Report rankings methodology: the law schools claimed that these rankings undermined minorities by overemphasizing the schools' elitist status, and thereby alienated many students from applying.  The Chronicle tried to spin the new rankings as reflecting some improved outcome.

It should be pretty obvious, however, that there is nothing new about the "new" rankings: it is more or less business as usual, as the celebrated "T-14," or the top 14 law schools, all stayed the same with a few minor rank order adjustments.  The various protests over the USN&WR ranking methodology, instigated by a small group of "elite" law schools, were simple showboating over themes favored by the current DNC political party.  Those themes are centered in race and wealth and aimed at advancing various ways to re-order their weighted representation and distribution, respectively. 

The elite law schools are considered elite for a reason — they participate in a closed network of reciprocal economic favors that exclude, with the exception of a few token gestures, the many minorities, and much of the lower economic classes, who may otherwise aspire to attend such law schools.  Yale and Harvard, especially, also enjoy a monopoly in the Supreme Court (eight out of nine justices).  It is in their self-interest to deflect criticism of their exclusionary status and relationships by taking on an apparent advocacy posture on behalf of the disadvantaged.

It is vital to the elite law school sector that they maintain a favored relationship with political power because that power is the corridor to the judiciary and corporate law sectors and the revolving door between them, even if that means dropping their qualification criteria, and indeed, modifying the nature of law itself in order to appeal to the background and interests of groups who have an activist agenda outside law proper (Barack Obama may be among the poster candidates, as his university records remain sealed.)  All the other lower-ranked schools are largely filler for the U.S. News media publication and are otherwise completely detached from the elite law school market: students don't apply to Yale or Chicago with Nevada and South Dakota as backups (equally fine law schools as they are).

What is revealed about the new rankings is that ordered power is now even more stable and consolidated, and the law schools and the legal industry are just fine with that.  Change is unsettling and disruptive, and law especially is a cultural phenomenon that thrives on authority, obedience, and predictability.  It is all an illusion, of course, but the illusion must be sustained if perceptual dominance is the objective.  Higher education functions through symbols of elitism and prestige, and the lower-ranked law schools will obligingly remain in the lower decks, rowing for the legal ship captains and crown.  The progressive left is just fine with that too, as leftists fancy themselves class elitists, and a fragile authority and control is their temporary currency.

Matthew G. Andersson is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the author of the upcoming book Legally Blind, which discusses how ideology affects the law industry.

Image: US News & World Report.

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