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Harvard Medical School withdraws from U.S. News rankings

The dean said the rankings created ‘perverse incentives.’ His move follows those of some prominent law schools.

Harvard Medical School is withdrawing from the U.S. News & World Report ranking of medical schools, its dean announced Tuesday. (Harvard Medical School)

Harvard Medical School will no longer provide data to U.S. News & World Report for its surveys and rankings of best medical schools, its dean announced Tuesday, a decision that echoes that of prominent law schools in rejecting the influential ranking system in recent weeks.

George Q. Daley, dean of the faculty of medicine at Harvard University, wrote in a message to the school that the ranking system creates “perverse incentives for institutions to report misleading or inaccurate data,” sets flawed policies or diverts financial aid from needy students to boost rankings.

Harvard Medical School is ranked No. 1 in the country for research by U.S. News.

In November, Heather K. Gerken, the dean of the perennially top-ranked law school, Yale Law School, spurred a revolt when she announced that it would no longer participate in the “profoundly flawed” rankings because they disincentivized programs supporting public-interest careers and need-based financial aid — undermining what she called the core commitments of the legal profession.

Harvard Law School quickly followed, and then most of the highest-ranked law schools nationally also pulled out, prompting U.S. News to scramble to change its formula for judging legal education.

Several deans said the publication’s changes were insufficient to lure them back; Gerken said having a window into the publications’ operations “cemented” her decision.

Eric Gertler, the chief executive of U.S. News, said in a statement Tuesday that their mission is to help prospective students make the best decisions for their educational futures.

“We know that comparing diverse academic institutions across a common data set is challenging,” he said, “and that is why we have consistently stated that the rankings should be one component in a prospective student’s decision-making process. The fact is, millions of prospective students annually visit U.S. News medical school rankings because we provide students with valuable data and solutions to help with that process.”

U.S. News & World Report changes law school formula after rankings revolt

Within Harvard, there are conflicting views on U.S. News rankings. A spokesman for the Harvard Business School, Mark Cautela, said in a statement Tuesday that the school will continue to take part in several rankings, including those issued by U.S. News. The school is tied for fifth in the U.S. News list of best business schools.

“Our research indicates that prospective MBA students utilize the information provided in the rankings when narrowing their decision about where to apply,” Cautela said. “While we don’t endorse the ranking methodologies, we recognize the convenience they offer of presenting comparative data in one place. We continually examine the survey questions and data requirements to ensure they are consistent with our institutional values and, if needed, we engage directly with the publishers to promote changes.”

The rankings have long been controversial, but they remain enormously influential to students weighing where to apply.

U.S. News college rankings draw new complaints and competitors

Among several highly ranked medical schools The Washington Post contacted Tuesday, none revealed immediate plans to follow the lead of their counterparts at Harvard. Some declined to take a position. Johns Hopkins University’s medical school is still sending information to U.S. News, a spokesperson for Johns Hopkins Medicine said, “but, as we do each year, we will consider our future participation.”

Through a Harvard Medical School spokesperson, Daley declined to comment beyond the rationale in his statement.

Daley wrote that he had considered this decision since becoming dean six years ago, and believed that rankings could not “meaningfully reflect” the medical school’s aspirations for “educational excellence, graduate preparedness, and compassionate and equitable patient care.”

Daley also wrote that the suitability of a medical school for any given student was far too complex and nuanced to be helped by a ranking list, regardless of its methodology. He said the school will provide information on its website to help prospective students evaluate schools, and he noted that comparable data for schools nationally is available on the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) Reports for Applicants and Advisors on the Association of American Medical Colleges website.

Daley said the “courageous and bold moves” by John Manning, the dean of Harvard Law School, and other law school leaders compelled him to act.