Yale and Harvard Law Schools Abandon U.S. News Rankings

Yale, which long held the No. 1 spot, says the ranking discourages support for low-income students and public-interest careers

Yale Law School is known as a training ground for legal scholars and prominent lawyers. Photo: Tim Tai for The Wall Street Journal

By Melissa Korn

Updated Nov. 16, 2022 5:33 pm ET699

Yale Law School and Harvard Law School are pulling out of the U.S. News & World Report law-school ranking that they have dominated for decades, issuing a significant blow to the credibility and power of the high-profile rankings.

The departures stand to disrupt what had become a fairly static and influential list of the nation’s best law schools, and administrators say the moves could help shift how schools make decisions in admissions, financial aid and whether to encourage students to pursue public-interest jobs.

“The U.S. News rankings are profoundly flawed,” Yale Law Dean Heather Gerken said Wednesday morning in announcing the move. “Its approach not only fails to advance the legal profession, but stands squarely in the way of progress.”

Specifically, she said, the rankings devalue programs that encourage low-paying public-interest jobs and reward schools that dangle scholarships for high LSAT scores, rather than for financial need.

Later Wednesday, Harvard Law announced that it was withdrawing from the rankings as well, with its dean, John Manning, saying that the school had been deliberating the move for several months.

“It has become impossible to reconcile our principles and commitments with the methodology and incentives the U.S. News rankings reflect,” he wrote in a message to the school community. He cited many of the same reasons as Ms. Gerken.

He also said a student-debt metric the rankings adopted a few years ago may reward schools that offer generous financial aid, but could also lead schools to admit more well-off students who don’t need to borrow. Harvard held the No. 4 spot in the latest ranking.

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In an emailed statement after Yale’s announcement Wednesday morning, Eric Gertler, executive chairman and CEO of U.S. News & World Report, said the publication’s goal is unchanged.

“As part of our mission, we must continue to ensure that law schools are held accountable for the education they will provide to these students,” he said.

U.S. News went on to issue a point-by-point response to Ms. Gerken’s statement. It said she mischaracterized its rankings and how it collects and uses data, and that by opting out, a school deprives students of the chance to make well-informed decisions.

U.S. News has been ranking colleges and graduate programs since the 1980s, quickly growing into the definitive guide for many college-bound families and students interested in graduate and professional school. For decades, schools have highlighted their placement in promotional materials, and some university leaders even get financial incentives if their schools move up the list.

But behind closed doors, administrators have long criticized the U.S. News rankings for focusing on inputs, such as high test scores, over outcomes, and for accepting schools’ self-reported data without any audit function. Still, many have been wary of walking away, knowing how powerful a top rank can be as a lure for prospective students and for employers looking to hire new talent.

Yale Law School has held the No. 1 spot every year since 1990, and likely won’t want for qualified candidates as a result of its impending absence from the list.

“Dean Gerken has made some very salient points, and like many, we have long been concerned about the U.S. News law school rankings methodology and will be giving this careful thought,” said Stephanie Ashe, a spokeswoman for No. 2-ranked Stanford Law.

Representatives from No. 3-ranked University of Chicago Law School and Columbia Law School, which tied with Harvard at No. 4, declined to comment on whether they might pull out of the rankings.

“If a lot of other schools follow their lead, then the U.S. News rankings and the stranglehold that it has over law schools will disintegrate,” said Russell Korobkin, interim dean at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. “I don’t think you can find a dean that would be upset to see that happen.”

Schools that don’t already have national brand recognition may be less likely to drop out of the rankings, as they rely on the lists to get noticed by prospective students.

Mr. Korobkin said that because UCLA competes so hard against a handful of other schools that are elite but not in the top tier like Yale and Harvard, “we can’t afford to unilaterally in our part of the market opt out.” However, he said, “I would suspect that we would be very seriously considering it if other schools in our band were to drop out.”

Yale’s Ms. Gerken said she understands the rankings’ pull, but they are useful “only when they follow sound methodology and confine their metrics to what the data can reasonably capture.”

Ms. Gerken said U.S. News appeared to classify graduates as unemployed if they had school-funded fellowships to take jobs in public-interest fields, or if they went on to enroll in a Ph.D. program or other graduate school. She said the ranking also doesn’t give schools credit for having generous loan-forgiveness programs, which can erase students’ debt loads.

About five years ago, she said, she and a group of other law-school deans wrote to implore U.S. News to rethink how it categorizes public-interest fellowships. That outreach didn’t yield any notable change, she said.

“Any dean who creates these risks getting punished in the rankings,” she said of the fellowships. “This is a moment in time for us to really reflect on what our values are.”

U.S. News & World Report said Wednesday that it regularly meets with deans about the rankings “and, where appropriate, incorporates their input into its methodology.”

The publication also said it gives less weight to jobs funded by the schools. “The U.S. News law school rankings are focused on determining whether a school is helping its students obtain positions in the open job market. School-sponsored jobs receive less credit as a result,” they said.

Ginny Gilder

From Nudity to Naked Ambition: A WNBA Owner Talks Title IX at 50

Seattle Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder protested gender discrimination at Yale in 1976. Now she crusades for pro women’s team franchise values.

Ginny Gilder is co-owner of the Seattle Storm. TED S. WARREN/ASSOCIATED PRESS



By Rachel Bachman

June 20, 2022 10:06 am ETPRINTTEXT


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More than 45 years later, Ginny Gilder says, people still focus on one aspect of a protest that made her and her fellow college students famous: the nudity.

One day in 1976, she and 18 of her Yale women’s crew teammates filed into the office of the school’s director of women’s sports and stripped to reveal the words “Title IX” magic-markered on their bodies. 

The point of their nakedness, Gilder says, was, “that’s part of what you do when you take a shower. We couldn’t take care of ourselves in the most basic way.”

The Yale men’s crew team had showers. The women’s team didn’t. That contrast, the women said, violated the federal Title IX legislation enacted four years earlier that barred sex discrimination in education.

Fifty years after the June 23, 1972, passage of the law, the sweatshirt Gilder removed that day is on display at a Title IX exhibit at the New York Historical Society. And Gilder is co-owner, with two other women, of the four-time WNBA champion Seattle Storm—an embodiment of the law’s enduring impact. 

Title IX made it illegal to exclude women or girls from any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. It applied to the overwhelming majority of schools and universities, even many private schools, and had sweeping effects, curbing the practice of colleges barring women or limiting their numbers.

The law’s most visible effect was on sports, where schools that had fielded robust slates of boys’ and men’s teams were compelled to create ones for female athletes. Since the law’s passage, the number of girls playing high school sports has increased more than 10-fold, to 3.4 million, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. 

Title IX doesn’t cover professional sports, but Gilder traces a line from the law’s passage to the 26-year-old WNBA, which the legislation made possible. Women’s sports is now at an inflection point, with growth turning into a push for better funding and promotion. Gilder says the next step is securing the financial standing of women’s professional teams.

Since Title IX doesn’t govern pro sports, “that means we have to convince the greater culture that this is of value,” Gilder says. “And that’s shifting how people see the world, how people see women, how people see themselves. I don’t know how it happens, but it’s happening.”

WNBA players, a majority of whom are Black, have long supported off-the-court causes. But the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in 2020 was a turning point for spectators, Gilder says, because fans sought out teams that reflected their values. 

“That’s when, I think, consumers really started to shift,” Gilder says. “Especially young people.”

Seattle Storm fans at a recent game.PHOTO: STEPH CHAMBERS/GETTY IMAGES

TV ratings for the 12-team WNBA are up. Sponsorships have increased. WNBA officials aim to expand the league by one or two teams in the next three years, and are in the midst of market research and talks with interested parties. 

The price tag for what would be the WNBA’s first expansion team or teams since the Atlanta Dream in 2008 will be an important barometer of the league’s trajectory. Perhaps even more interesting will be the value of the Storm, the league attendance leader this season with about 10,000 fans per game and home to veteran stars Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart.

“When we bought the team, that’s one of the things we said: Whenever we sell our franchise—and we are not selling in the near future—we were going to sell it and make a profit,” Gilder says. “Not because we’ve got to make money but because that’s the only way to secure the league’s future. Otherwise you’re a hobby.”

Gilder—who founded a family investment firm, Gilder Office For Growth, LLC, and several other businesses and nonprofits—declines to say how much she and her partners paid for the Storm in 2008. Several WNBA teams have been sold for a reported $10 million-$15 million. Gilder notes that those franchises generally were sold hastily or under duress. 

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Another critical juncture for WNBA franchise valuations is a couple of years away: the renegotiation of its main broadcast-rights agreement. That deal, with ESPN, runs through 2025 and is worth about $25 million a year, according to published reports. Other content deals including CBS, Prime Video, Facebook and Twitter push the league’s annual media revenue above $35 million.

For the WNBA, as with other leagues, a richer broadcast deal is critical to helping boost franchise values. 

Women’s sports advocates say a large increase is warranted, pointing to the bundling of rights to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament despite its popularity and the far larger rights fees awarded to Major League Soccer despite its games posting similar TV ratings to the WNBA.

Gilder and her partners, businesswomen Dawn Trudeau and Lisa Brummel, are so confident in the Storm’s future that they’re investing more than $60 million in construction of a 50,000-square-foot team practice and office facility. “I’m not doing this for charity,” Gilder says.

Gilder and her partners, businesswomen Dawn Trudeau and Lisa Brummel, are investing more than $60 million in construction of a 50,000-square-foot team practice and office facility.PHOTO: STEPH CHAMBERS/GETTY IMAGES

Although college facilities for women’s teams are now the norm in the era of Title IX, the projects in the works for women’s pro teams, including in the National Women’s Soccer League, are nearly unprecedented.

To Gilder, the private financing for the facilities is evidence of financial faith in women’s leagues and also a reflection that the playing field for pro sports isn’t level. 

“That’s all well and good, but when the hell is a women’s team going to get what the Buffalo Bills are getting?” Gilder says of the planned construction of a $1.4 billion stadium with $850 million in public funds. “Ridiculous tax breaks. All over America you have baseball fields, you have indoor arenas where women have been locked out and told, ‘You can’t afford to play here,’ that, I’m sorry, taxpayers paid for.”

Soon after that 1976 protest at Yale, showers were built for the female rowers. In 1984, Gilder and her U.S. teammates rowed to a silver medal at the Los Angeles Olympics. 

Without Title IX, Gilder says, the U.S. wouldn’t have Olympic teams on which more women than men are now qualifying for the Games—and winning more medals. It also wouldn’t have the women’s professional leagues it does. What happens next is up to the WNBA’s future owners, its media partners—and its fans. 

Write to Rachel Bachman at Rachel.Bachman@wsj.com


The year was 2006 and seasons and circumstances had not been kind to the 1954 Whiffenpoofs. We had lost half the group by our mid-60’s, our dear Popo who devoted his life to healing folks in Africa but unfortunately had no interest in alumni singing had just died, our Pitchpipe a long time far removed Boulder resident, only six of us remaining, just one tenor. When the Class of 1954 gathered to mini-reunion in San Francisco that spring, organizers recruited a local singing group headed by Whiff Bill Stone ’52. There were four of our group present and at the close of the evening we four sang Slide Trombone and The Whiffenpoof Song with them to our great enjoyment. Then the next night after dinner the four of us joined the group two and three deep gathered around the piano to sing the evening away. One thing led to another as we began to seriously discuss the possibility of singing as a group again.

My senior society, one-third its original number, had just recently added two marvelous individuals, Dick Gilder and Charlie Watson, who by the twists of fate missed the first deserved election in 1953. And I thought, we have an ideal situation. First, Yale has always attracted singers and at least three strong groups, Augmented Seven, Duke’s Men and Alley Cats, the last mostly 54’s, had started while we were in school so we likely had lots of “potential Whiffs” still living in our class.

As for audience, there again it was ideal. In 1993 another great classmate, Joel Smilow, funded the renovation of Lapham, now Smilow, Field House, next to Cox Cage and the Bowl, and the Class of 1954 was granted use of its large hall for the big football game, either Harvard or Princeton every year. The party there, pre, during and post-game, has always drawn a crowd. This plus regular mini-reunions meant we would have at least one event every year for people who loved Whiff and Yale songs, especially the old ones.

And last, but not least, we had Russ Reynolds, Class Secretary and one of our second basses, with Debbie, the perfect host and hostess, in back country Greenwich to provide the ideal place to congregate and rehearse each November.

It required a little more discussion by phone and email, but in the succeeding weeks we voted unanimously to move forward, established contact with Whiff Alumni President Dennis Cross (a much appreciated great help), elected a successor Popo, created a mission statement and a songbook, funded a kitty generously and added four members initially in order to sing at the Princeton weekend that November. We met in Greenwich on the Thursday before the football weekend to rehearse, sang Friday night at a table down at Mory’s and then the next afternoon at the Smilow Field House for our class post game party, emerging with an invitation to the next mini in the fall of 2007 in DC. We were on our way. It was just like old times, we were a group again

The re-formed Whiffenpoofs of 1954 were initially just from ‘54 – John Franciscus, Dick Hiers, Charlie Johnson, Jim Monde, honorary member Carl Shedd also now sidelined Chuck Bullock, Harold Star and renowned Dick Gregory and now deceased Obie Clifford, Nick Peay and Buddy Thompson. Early on we made the wise decision to lure current Whiff Alumni President John Burke ’72 to co-direct our singing with Pitchpipe Oak Thorne and then to bring on Jim Doak, Ash Gulliver and Al Atherton from later classes to keep our number between 12 and 14. And in 2014 President Salovey accepted our invitation to become an Honorary Whiff and sings our Song enthusiastically with us each November.

We have performed at least once each year save one since 2006 and for a charity whenever possible, the one exception 2021 due to Covid. Besides reunions and football weekends, we have gathered annually usually for at least five days in Nantucket, Harbor Springs, the Adirondacks, as far away as Puerto Rico. We met to sing together this July for the third time in Islesboro, ME, and plan to perform at the Harvard game this fall.

The one thing we now have that was absent in 1954 – our wives. We soon discovered what a privilege to get to know them and what a great resource and blessing this is for our group. As mentioned above, when we sing together it is like old times, but it is different in a special kind of way. There has always been the fun and the excitement of the performance, but in later years there is now deep appreciation in being part of this group past and present which now even includes dear wives, so many fond memories, so many good people; a humbling realization of what a talent we have been given and must share; a closer bond and appreciation for the people in our audience; and whatever we think of her today, undying thanks to Yale.

Notable & Quotable: Donald Kagan

‘Universities, he proposed, are failing students and hurting American democracy.’

Aug. 12, 2021 6:30 pm ET

Historian Donald Kagan. Photo: Yale/Michael Marsland

From the Journal’s April 27, 2013, Weekend Interview with historian Donald Kagan, who died Aug. 6 at 89:

For his “farewell lecture” here at Yale . . . the 80-year-old scholar . . . uncorked a biting critique of American higher education.

Universities, he proposed, are failing students and hurting American democracy. . . . He counseled schools to adopt “a common core of studies” in the history, literature and philosophy “of our culture.” . . .

This might once have been called incitement. In 1990, as dean of Yale College, Mr. Kagan argued for the centrality of the study of Western civilization in an “infamous” (his phrase) address to incoming freshmen. A storm followed. He was called a racist—or as the campus daily more politely editorialized, a peddler of “European cultural arrogance.”

The DOJ Says Yale Discriminated by Race in Undergrad Admissions. Here’s What You Need to Know.

The DOJ Says Yale Discriminated by Race in Undergrad Admissions. Here’s What You Need to Know.

The Justice Department says white and Asian-American applicants were rejected based on race but Yale’s president called the allegation baseless


The Justice Department said Yale University had discriminated against Asian-American and white undergraduate applicants, concluding a nearly two-year investigation into the school’s admissions practices.

1. The DOJ wants Yale to stop using race as an admissions factor.

After reviewing hundreds of admissions decisions, the department said in a letter to Yale that Asian-American and white students have one-tenth to one-fourth the likelihood of being admitted as African-American applicants with comparable academic credentials, and that the university must agree to end its use of race as an admissions factor within two weeks or face a lawsuit.

2. The Trump administration is attempting to challenge the consideration in selective colleges’ admissions decisions.

The Justice Department’s move marks an escalation of these efforts. Four decades of Supreme Court precedents support universities’ consideration of an applicant’s race, in a limited fashion, when putting together their undergraduate classes. Schools say diverse campuses have educational benefits, like better preparing students for the global workforce.

3. Yale says it won’t change its processes.

The school says it relies on a holistic review of applicants, including academics, leadership experience, backgrounds and more. Yale president Peter Salovey called the Justice Department’s allegation baseless, adding that “the DOJ concluded its investigation before reviewing and receiving all the information it has requested.” He said the school won’t change its processes “because the DOJ is seeking to impose a standard that is inconsistent with existing law.”

4. Nearly half of Yale’s class of 2023 identifies as white.

Just under 26% of the class identified as Asian-American, and 49.3% identified as white. Another 11.8% identified as African-American, 15% as Hispanic, 3% as Native American and 9.5% as international, according to the university. Because students self-reported and some identified as multiple ethnicities, the percentages don’t add up to 100%.

Read the whole story

Yale Discriminated by Race in Undergraduate Admissions, Justice Department Says

Alumni for Excellence

by Thomas HoodJUL 12, 2020/0 Comments

I fear I have been blinded for a period of years by my institutional affection and great memories from noticing what appear to be some disturbing long-term trends at Yale. The much-publicized recent campus culture issue involving hate speech vs. freedom of speech and similar matters of a quasi-political nature are only marginally related, if at all, to these concerns.

https://yale1969.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/68584463_1514851801988121_4302970851591979008_o-300x150.jpgPasted below (shaded area) is a piece put together last year by Yale Alumni For Excellence, using credible publicly-available sources.  It summarizes some alarming statistics indicating a degree of deterioration in the quality of Yale’s educational mission; simply stated Yale is lagging behind its peer institutions.

Responsibility for Yale’s educational mission is vested in the board of the Corporation and there are six Alumni Fellows, one elected each year for a six year term. In theory these Fellows represent Yale’s alumni.

However, this election process is structured to preserve the status quo. The Corporation selects two candidates each year for alumni to vote on, but there is no disclosure as to how these candidates were chosen, where they stand on issues important to Yale, or what they hope to accomplish.

The process for alumni to put their own candidate on the ballot is torturous. By getting signatures from 4,400 alums from now until October 1, 2020, a candidate will then be on the ballot for Alumni Fellow in May 2021.

Victor Ashe ’67, is seeking the position of Alumni Fellow through this petition process. Among other things, he has pledged to work to make this whole process and the actions of the Yale Corporation more transparent.

You can see Victor’s impressive background and learn more about these issues at his website: www.asheforyale.com.

A networking campaign has been organized to help Victor collect the signatures he needs between now and October 1, 2020. As a member of the network, I would like your support.  You can sign the petition easily online here (or download the form provided there, sign it and mail it).

If you are as concerned as I have become about these trends at our beloved alma mater, please also consider volunteering to help Victor  overcome the unfair petition process.  Details and signup form are on his website here.

Please consider active participation in this important, perhaps watershed, campaign.


Recent activities at Yale raise serious questions about the University’s future. It seems that not a month goes by without yet another negative report. As alumni, it gives us no pleasure to discuss these developments, but they are impossible to ignore. The uncomfortable truth is that Yale is falling behind its peers in many areas.


  • The 2019 FAS Senate Research and Scholarly Excellence Report revealed that “69 percent of tenured faculty members said they do not believe that their respective department ranks within the top five in their respective fields among institutions of higher education” and “just 1 .8% said their department was the clear leader in its field.”
  • Faculty salaries lag behind peer institutions by 13%.
  • According to the FAS Senate, the administration has ignored these concerns.


  • Yale is the undisputed Ivy League heavyweight champion of bureaucracy, with 81 .8 bureaucrats per 1 1000 students (compared to, for example, 45.2 per 1 ,000 students at Harvard). In fact, Yale seems to be closing in on the national championship of bureaucracy: Out of 1 ,622 colleges and universities surveyed by The Chronicle of Higher Education, only four had more bureaucrats per student than Yale.
  • From 1 995-96 to 201 6-1 7, Yale’s managerial and professional staff increased by 77.25%, compared to a 10.44% increase in service and maintenance staff.
  • Despite this vast bureaucracy, Yale was caught up in the recent national bribery scandal in admissions, indicating an embarrassing failure of oversight.


  • Yale’s alumni giving rate of 28.3% is lower than Stanford’s, lower than MIT’s, and lower than all but one of its Ivy League peers. (Yale Daily News, citing U.S. News & World Report)
  • In a recent survey of alumni leaders, 63% of those who expressed an opinion said that alumni have become less enthusiastic about donating to Yale in recent years.


  • Yale seems increasingly hostile to freedom of speech, to unfettered inquiry, and to heterodox opinions.
  • Yale’s free speech policy, articulated in the Woodward Report in 1 975, is first rate. But principles matter when they are tested, and the Woodward Report now seems to be a hollow promise. Following the embarrassments of 201 5, Yale hardly seems committed to “the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.”
  • According to the Yale Daily News, 75% of students “believe Yale does not provide a welcoming environment for conservative students to share their opinions on political issues.”


  • The cost of tuition, room, and board has soared to $72,100, more than doubling in less than twenty years and far outpacing inflation.

Where did this money go, if not to the University’s core academic mission? As other commitments consume ever larger amounts of the budget, investments in faculty, students, and academic pursuits are paying the price. This trajectory is unsustainable and a new direction is necessary.

Richard Gilder

Richard Gilder

His ideas and philanthropy helped to revive New York and Central Park.

By May 15, 2020 6:53 pm ET

Dick Gilder and Lois Chiles attend the Central Park Conservancy Hat Luncheon on May 2, 2018. Photo: Robin Platzer/Twin Images/Zuma Press

At a moment when New York City is facing an historic challenge from the novel coronavirus, it is worth remembering Richard Gilder, who did much to pull the city out of the economic and social crises of the 1970s and 1980s. Unmasking the Michael Flynn UnmaskersSubscribe

Dick Gilder, who died at 87 of congestive heart failure in Virginia this week, was a native New Yorker and an impatient optimist. He dropped out of Yale Law School because he found the law’s pace too slow. He preferred life in the financial markets, founding the brokerage firm, Gilder, Gagnon, Howe & Co. There he discovered his calling—not making money, which he did, but using his money to solve civic problems.

One of the biggest, literally, sat outside his windows in the 1970s: Central Park. New York’s magnificent park had become something of a wasteland in the 1970s when the city was in a financial crisis.

Donating $17 million of his own money, Gilder put in motion an idea that became the Central Park Conservancy, to this day a model of private-public partnership, which revived and still sustains Central Park as a city jewel. He later became chairman of the then-stodgy New-York Historical Society and transformed it into one of the city’s most dynamic cultural destinations.

Gilder was an enthusiastic believer in the benefits of private markets and private enterprise. He kept his politics out of the cultural institutions he helped, but he understood that successful political ideas also needed institutional support to survive.

He became an active supporter and chairman of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, which produced many proposals in the 1980s to pull New York City out of a cycle of social decay and crime. At the center of Gilder’s ideas was the belief that strong economic growth was the indispensable instrument of prosperity. So in 1999 he co-founded the aptly named Club for Growth, a political action committee dedicated to promoting political ideas that enhanced the possibility of economic growth and its social and cultural benefits.

The simple reality is that Dick Gilder all his life was his own club for growth. His hometown, New York City, benefited enormously from Gilder’s vision of putting free-market ideas in the service of sustainable civic renewal.

Emerging from the social and economic devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, New York again faces a difficult future, as it did in the 1970s. We hope the city can still nurture and promote those who remember and revive the Gilder legacy of letting private interests produce public good. It works.

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

How Epidemics Change Civilizations

Measures developed for the plagues of the 14th century are helping authorities fight the coronavirus now, says Yale historian Frank Snowden.


Jason Willick

March 27, 2020 7:06 pm ET

To put the coronavirus pandemic in perspective, consider what happened when the bubonic plague struck London in 1665. The onset of the disease could be sudden, says Yale historian Frank Snowden: “You actually have people afflicted and in agony in public spaces.” Trade and commerce swiftly shut down, and “every economic activity disappeared.” The city erected hospitals to isolate the sick. “You have the burning of sulfur in the streets—bonfires to purify the air.”

Some 100,000 Londoners—close to a quarter of the population, equivalent to two million today—died. Some sufferers committed suicide by “throwing themselves into the Thames,” Mr. Snowden says. “Such was their horror at what was happening to their bodies, and the excruciating pain of the buboes”—inflamed lymph nodes—that are the classic symptom of the bubonic plague. Social order broke down as the authorities fled. “Death cart” drivers went door to door, collecting corpses for a fee and sometimes plundering the possessions of survivors.

The plague’s violent assaults on European cities in the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods created “social dislocation in a way we can’t imagine,” says Mr. Snowden, whose October 2019 book, “Epidemics in Society: From the Black Death to the Present”—a survey of infectious diseases and their social impact—is suddenly timely.

I interviewed Mr. Snowden, 73, over Skype. We’re both home in lockdown, I in California and he in Rome, where he’s gone to do research in the Vatican archives. In the mid-14th century, Italy was “the most scourged place in Europe with the Black Death,” he notes. In the 21st century, it’s among the countries hardest hit by Covid-19.

Science has consigned the plague, caused by the flea- and rat-borne bacterium Yersinia pestis, to the margins of public-health concern (though it remains feared as a potential aerosolized bioweapon). Yet its legacy raises challenging questions about how the coronavirus might change the world.

For all the modern West’s biomedical prowess, some of its blunt tools against a poorly understood disease are similar to what was first attempted in the 14th century. Take quarantine. Hundreds of millions of Americans and Europeans are isolated in their homes in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Isolation as a defense against infectious disease originated in the city-states of Venice and Florence. Italy was the center of Mediterranean trade, and the plague arrived in 1347 on commercial ships. The dominant theory at the time was “miasmatism”—the atmosphere was poisoned—perhaps by visitors’ garments—and people get sick “when they breathe that in, or absorb it through their pores,” Mr. Snowden says. “That is, there is some emanation, and it can be thought to be coming from the soil, or from the bodies” of sick people.

After plague visitations, the Venetian navy eventually began to force sailors arriving at the harbor to disembark on a nearby island, where they remained for 40 days—quaranta—a duration chosen for its biblical significance. The strategy worked when it was enforced as disease-ridden fleas died out and the sick died or recovered. Mr. Snowden notes that Americans returning from Wuhan, China, in early February were “detained on army bases for a quarantine period”—14 days rather than 40.

“We can see the roots of many aspects of modern health already in the Renaissance,” he adds. Another example is the wax “plague costume” worn by physicians. It resembled modern-day medical garb—“the protective garments that you see in the hospital for people dealing with Ebola, or this sort of space suit”—but with a long beak containing resonant herbs. They were thought to “purify the air that you were breathing in.” The costume “did, in fact, have some protective value,” Mr. Snowden says, because the wax repelled the fleas that carried the disease.

Antiplague efforts dramatically changed Europeans’ relationship to government. “The Florentines established what were called health magistrates, which are the ancestors of what today we call boards of health or departments of health,” Mr. Snowden explains. “Endowed with special legal powers,” they coordinated plague countermeasures.

The plague was more traumatic than a military assault, and the response was often warlike in its ferocity. One response was a “sanitary cordon,” or encircling of a city-state with soldiers, who didn’t allow anyone in or out. “Imagine one’s own city, and suddenly, in the morning, it’s cordoned off by the National Guard with fixed bayonets and helmets on, and orders to shoot if we cross,” Mr. Snowden says. Cordons were regularly imposed in European cities in times of plague risk, leading to terror and violence. In the 18th century, the Austrian army was “deployed to prevent bubonic plague from moving up the Balkan Peninsula and into Western Europe” by halting travelers who might be carrying it.

The sociologist Charles Tilly (1929-2008) famously argued that “war makes the state”—that borders and bureaucracies were forged by necessity in military conflict. Plague had similar effects, requiring “military commitment, administration, finance and all the rest of it,” Mr. Snowden says. In addition to a navy to enforce quarantines, “you needed to have a police power,” a monopoly on force over a wide area. Sometimes “watchmen were stationed outside the homes of people who had the plague, and no one was allowed in or out.”

Yet while the plague saw power move up from villages and city-states to national capitals, the coronavirus is encouraging a devolution of authority from supranational units to the nation-state. This is most obvious in the European Union, where member states are setting their own responses. Open borders within the EU have been closed, and some countries have restricted export of medical supplies. The virus has heightened tensions between the U.S. and China, as Beijing tries to protect its image and Americans worry about access to medical supply chains.

The coronavirus is threatening “the economic and political sinews of globalization, and causing them to unravel to a certain degree,” Mr. Snowden says. He notes that “coronavirus is emphatically a disease of globalization.” The virus is striking hardest in cities that are “densely populated and linked by rapid air travel, by movements of tourists, of refugees, all kinds of businesspeople, all kinds of interlocking networks.”

The social dynamics of a pandemic are determined partly by who is most affected. Cholera, for example, “is famously associated with social and class tensions and turmoil,” Mr. Snowden says. A vicious gastrointestinal infection, it was most prevalent in crowded urban tenements with contaminated food or water. “We could pick Naples, or we could pick New York City in the 19th century,” he says. “Municipal officials, the authorities, the doctors, the priests, the middle classes, the wealthy, who live in different neighborhoods, are not succumbing to this disease.” That led to conspiracy theories about its origin, and to working-class riots.

Similarly, the bubonic plague struck India, then a British colony, in the late 19th century. The British responded by introducing Renaissance-era antiplague measures—“very draconian exercises of power and authority, but by a colonial government, over the native population,” Mr. Snowden says. “The population of India regarded this as more fearful than the plague itself” and resisted. Britain, worried that “this would be the beginning of modern Indian nationalism,” backed off the measures, which were mostly ineffective anyway.

Respiratory viruses, Mr. Snowden says, tend to be socially indiscriminate in whom they infect. Yet because of its origins in the vectors of globalization, the coronavirus appears to have affected the elite in a high-profile way. From Tom Hanks to Boris Johnson, people who travel frequently or are in touch with travelers have been among the first to get infected.

That has shaped the political response in the U.S., as the Democratic Party, centered in globalized cities, demands an intensive response. Liberal professionals may also be more likely to be able to work while isolated at home. Republican voters are less likely to live in dense areas with high numbers of infections and so far appear less receptive to dramatic countermeasures.

DoD’s New Marching Orders: Fail Fast

By Walter Pincus (Y’54)

Walter Pincus is a contributing senior national security columnist at The Cipher Brief. He spent forty years at The Washington Post, writing on national security-related topics from nuclear weapons to politics.  In 2002, he and a team of Post reporters won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. He also won an Emmy in 1981 and the 2010 Arthur Ross Award from the American Academy for Diplomacy.

OPINION — Speedy U.S. development of hypersonic missiles, a new space-based, lower orbit, sensor layer to defend against Russian or Chinese hypersonic weapons, and inclusion of nuclear hypersonic weapons in any extension with Russia of the New START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty]  were priorities for 2020 and 2021 as laid out by the new Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. John Hyten, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on January 17.

Hyten called for taking risks in developing new weapons and defensive systems, while complaining that at the Pentagon “We try to study the heck out of it to get to the perfect answer before we start something.”

A week later, on January 24, also at CSIS, Defense Secretary Mark Esper echoed the same theme, saying “The department nearly doubled its long-term investment, almost $5 billion more in fiscal year 2020, for hypersonic weapons alone over the next five years. And our FY 2021 budget will be even stronger.”

Esper said a four-month, defense-wide review had led to reforms saving $5 billion in part by “divesting from legacy systems and lower-priority activities…We will use these savings to drive progress on critical technologies like artificial intelligence and hypersonic missiles.”

Hyten used North Korea’s missile program as an example of going fast in developing weapons. He pointed out that as one of the poorest countries in the world (115th economy out of 192) North Korea “developed a ballistic missile program that can threaten its neighbors and threaten the United States, and a nuclear program that can threaten its neighbors and the United States.”

“You look at Kim Jong-un,” Hyten said, “but then you look at his father and his grandfather, there are some significant differences…His grandfather launched, I think, nine; his father, I think, launched 22 during their entire tenure. Kim Jong-un has launched 67. He’s launched over a dozen in 2016, 2017, and 2019; didn’t launch anything in 2018.

“If you want to go fast in the missile business,” Hyten said, “you need to test fast, fly fast, learn fast.”

Again, Esper highlighted the same idea saying, “Across the force, we’re working to shed our risk-averse culture and establish an ecosystem where experimentation is incentivized, and innovation is rewarded.”

Hyten described the U.S. as “the leading software nation in the world,” but said Defense Department building software was “a nightmare.” America’s private software companies move fast, while Hyten said the statutory requirements that drive Pentagon acquisitions and contracting are for “an industrial-age model, not an information-age model.”

He said, “We have to allow people to take risk and delegate the responsibilities to people that are executing programs. We don’t train people how to buy things anymore. We train people how to get programs through the Pentagon and through the Congress.”

Esper again re-emphasized that point recalling while he was Army secretary, “the cycle we were trying to do in the Army, where you test, you fail; you test again, you succeed a little bit more; you test again, you succeed a lot; until you get it right. It has to be iterative. And so I think we have to work at the culture at the end of the day.”

Hyten used the cyber threat as his example saying, “As soon as you hit that day one, tomorrow you’re already out-of-date. Tomorrow you’re out-of-date. Not five years from now. Tomorrow you’re out-of-date. So how do I move fast in that structure? I think you have to, basically, go back to a threat-based view of the world, say here’s a threat.”

An engineer who has specialized in aircraft, missiles and space weaponry, Hyten said, “We were ahead in hypersonics a decade ago. We had two programs, two flights, the HTV-1

and HTV-2 [2011] under DARPA. They didn’t quite work. What did we do after they failed? We instituted multiyear studies into the failure process and then canceled the programs.”

Instead, Hyten said, “Why can’t the United States learn how to accept failure? We need to understand what failure is and learn from those failures, learn from the mistakes that we make, move quickly from those mistakes.”

When tragic accidents happen, like what happened to the U.S. space shuttles and human lives are involved, Hyten said, you have to take time, “because you can’t risk human life. But if you don’t have human life involved, you have to figure out how to go fast – how to adjust, how to – how to learn, how to launch quickly, how to move fast.”

Esper talked about the Trump National Defense Strategy “prioritizing China first and Russia second in this era of great-power competition…[and] trying to use emerging technologies to alter the landscape of power and reshape the world in their favor, and often at the expense of others.”

Hyten added another element, saying, “Everything that happens in China, every technology in China, is available for the military use. There’s not this separation like you see in the West, like the separation that you see in the United States. It’s very, very tied together.”

Both Esper and Hyten talked about the need for new cooperative efforts between the Pentagon and industry, with the Defense Secretary saying, “There are things we must do in order to work more closely with our nation’s innovators to become a better customer and to partner in more effective ways.”

Hyten discussed the new problem of defense against Russian hypersonic missiles saying, “If you can’t see it, you can’t defend against it. If you can’t see it, you can’t deter it either.” He ruled out ground-based radars saying too many would be needed on Pacific islands or along the U.S. east coast. The answer, he said, comes down to “medium-earth orbit or low-earth orbit” sensors, or what’s known as the Space Sensor Layer.”

Hyten claimed, “We’re studying the heck out of it, when actually what we need to say…Now there’s all kinds of sensors that are out there. Put the sensors on some satellites, fly them cheap, fly them fast, see what they can do, and then figure out what you need to actually go build.”

On arms control, Hyten said, “New START is a good thing…because it gives you a number [of deployed Russian warheads and delivery systems]…It also gives you insight into the Russian nuclear forces because of the verification regime that’s on the New START Treaty. Those are very, very important issues.”

But Hyten added his belief that an extension should include not just Russia’s new nuclear weapons like hypersonic cruise missiles and nuclear torpedoes, but also their tactical weapons. His reasoning, “Because [their] employment will not be tactical. That employment will be strategic. And it will be responded to in a strategic way.” He also said talks should begin with China, whose strategic nuclear arsenal although small is growing.

Discussions on extending START are underway “not just in the [Defense}] Department, but in the interagency and in the White House,” Hyten said, adding, “I won’t tell you exactly the discussions that are going on, but those are the pieces of the puzzle.”

Hyten also took time to complain about the privatized housing problem facing military families, suicide prevention, taking care of children with special needs, personnel with mental health issues and sexual assault, where he said the numbers “are going the wrong way.”

Hyten announced he was going to hire a special assistant to “look at our people and families…and we’re going to get after all these people and family programs to make sure that we are taking care of our most precious resource.”

Read more national security insights, perspectives and analysis in The Cipher Brief

Top Colleges in the Northeast for Student Outcomes

Harvard and Princeton top the regional list for this category in the WSJ/THE College Rankings

Harvard University was one of seven Ivy League schools in the top 10 colleges in the Northeast for student outcomes. Photo: Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Jan. 15, 2020 11:06 am ET

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The top 10 colleges in the Northeast for student outcomes include six that made the top 10 nationwide for the category in the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings.

Harvard University and Princeton University tied for the top ranking in outcomes both in the Northeast and nationally, with Yale University placing third in the region and nationwide. They are followed in the Northeast ranking by the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University and Dartmouth College, all of which are in the top 10 nationally for outcomes.

The WSJ/THE rankings emphasize how well a college will prepare students for life after graduation. The overall ranking is based on 15 factors across four main categories: Forty percent of each school’s overall score comes from student outcomes, including measures of graduate salaries and debt burdens, 30% from the school’s academic resources, 20% from how well it engages its students and 10% from its diversity.

Explore the Full Rankings

You can filter the WSJ/THE full rankings or customize them to focus on your own priorities. JUSTIN METZ

Another Ivy League school, Brown University, also made the top 10 in the Northeast for outcomes, at No. 9. The only Ivy not to make the regional top 10 for the category, Columbia University, is No. 11 in the Northeast.

Non-Ivies in the Northeastern top 10 for outcomes are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Amherst College and Williams College.

All 10 schools on the Northeastern list are private. The top public school for outcomes in the Northeast is the University of Pittsburgh, 32nd in the region, followed by SUNY Binghamton University at 33rd. They rank 80th and 87th, respectively, in the country for outcomes.

See the list of top 10 schools in the Northeast for outcomes below. You can also see our full rankings as well as sort the complete rankings by a variety of measures and reweight the main contributing factors to reflect what’s most important to you. And you can use our tool to help you compare any two colleges in detail side by side.

Top Colleges in the Northeast for Outcomes

Outcomes Rank: NortheastCollegeOutcomes Rank: NationalOverall Rank: National
1Harvard University11
1Princeton University15
3Yale University33
4University of Pennsylvania54
5Cornell University79
6Dartmouth College1012
7Massachusetts Institute of Technology122
8Amherst College1420
9Brown University157
10Williams College1721

Showing 1 to 10 of 10 entries

Regions are as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Ties are listed in order of the schools’ overall national ranking.

Source: WSJ/THE College Rankings

(See the top 10 list of Northeastern colleges, ranked by student outcomes.)

——Gerard Yates