To the Editor:
It should be pretty obvious that there is nothing really new about the “new” U.S. News & World Report law-school rankings: It is more or less business as usual (“What the New ‘U.S. News’ Law-School Rankings Reveal About the Rankings Enterprise,” The Chronicle, May 11). The various protests over the ranking methodology that were instigated by a small group of “elite” law schools, were simple showboating over themes favored by the current dominant political party. Those themes are centered on race and wealth, and advancing 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 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 it maintains 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. 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 as a backup (as equally fine a law school as the University of Nevada is).
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.
Matthew G. Andersson