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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

OPINION:

In the 2022-2023 academic year, tuition for two semesters at Yale will cost incoming students an astounding $62,250. Yale Law School costs $69,100. And that’s excluding room and board. While a Yale education reliably provides a good return on investment for the students, tuition-paying parents, alumni and faculty can fairly wonder where all of that money goes. Earlier this month, Yale made it much harder to find out.

Yale Law announced that it’s dropping out of the U.S. News and World Report rankings, quickly followed by Harvard and UC Berkeley. Defending the decision, Yale Law Dean Heather Gerken cites efforts she believed “make our law school a better place but perversely work to lower our scores,” including supporting “public interest careers, champion need-based aid, and welcome working-class students.” As she goes on to explain, the U.S. News rankings take into account debt load upon graduation, a metric that she argues disincentivizes those same programs.


One would think the expected debt load would matter to someone who comes from a family that doesn’t have the resources to pay upfront. And as Ms. Gerken acknowledges in her statement, “Loan forgiveness programs matter enormously to students interested in service.” The possibility of future debt forgiveness doesn’t change the fact that those students will have to deal with that debt when they get their first jobs.

The truth of Yale’s objection to the U.S. News rankings, however, comes several paragraphs into its expansive explanation. Ms. Gerken states that “20% of a law school’s overall ranking is median LSAT/GRE scores and GPAs” and argues that test scores “don’t always capture the full measure of an applicant.” While tests admittedly can’t provide a full picture of a potential Yale student, devaluing test scores as part of the application process makes the whole process unaccountable. Without some objective measure, applying undergraduates — whether privileged, underprivileged, White, minority, middle class or poor — can have little faith that being the best will actually get them into one of the nation’s top-tier educational institutions.

By hiding its admissions data from U.S. News, Yale Law is trying to have its cake and eat it too: Ride on its reputation as a top school while adopting admissions criteria that could put that status in doubt. If the average test score drops but no one can see it, is it really dropping?

Indeed, Yale’s peer assessment score, a measure of how administrators and tenured faculty at peer institutions perceive Yale, dropped in the most recent school rankings. After spending many years between 4.8 and 4.9 out of 5, “Yale’s peer assessment score dropped to 4.6” this year. While Yale Law retained its No. 1 slot for one last year, it seems Yale’s on-campus free speech controversies are having an impact.

Sadly, this now commonplace effort to hide data extends to the management of Yale’s endowment as well.

The Yale Daily News reported that the university decided not to release data to the Knight Foundation for a survey on “asset manager diversity.” While the university itself declined to comment, institutional asset expert Charles Skorina explained that if Yale released its own data, it “would be forced to explain that diverse-owned asset managers simply did not meet their ‘performance standards.’”

If Yale had other means of accountability, this would be less of a concern. But in the middle of last year’s elections for the Yale Corporation, Yale’s governing body, the corporation voted to eliminate the only means by which alumni could be elected to the board without the sign-off of the university itself. Future candidates for election will be chosen entirely by the Yale-controlled Yale Alumni Association, won’t discuss issues, and won’t release any statement beyond a brief biography.

Left to its own devices, Yale makes questionable choices. In June 2016, Yale alum Lei Zhang joined the Yale Corporation. Mr. Zhang secured an internship with the Yale Investments Office in 2002 after graduating from the Yale School of Management and failing to find a job on Wall Street. Three years later, Yale gave him $20 million to manage on his own. Mr. Zhang then “became an early investor” in the Chinese companies JD.com and Tencent, the latter of which the Trump administration tried to ban because of its enforcement of Chinese government censorship even in the United States.

In Mr. Zhang’s five-year tenure as a Yale trustee, his company, Hillhouse Capital Management, reaped over $118 million in fees from the university, according to Yale’s 990s. While having oversight of Yale’s investments, the Yale Corporation included someone who benefited financially from those very same investments. Yale may have profited from the arrangement, but surely there are others among Yale’s over 160,000 alumni who could have served well and without a nine-figure conflict of interest. Given the 50-year embargo of minutes of the Yale Corporation, it will be quite a while before we can find out whether that conflict was considered.

Yale’s growing interest in hiding from accountability should worry everyone concerned about the reputation of America’s education system. Once the top destination for the brightest minds in the world, woke admissions policies and opaque governance tarnishes the reputation of America’s great academic institutions.

• Lauren Noble is the founder and executive director of the William F. Buckley Jr. Program.


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