Earlier this week, a dozen federal judges announced they would follow the lead of Fifth Circuit Judge James Ho’s recent decision to stop hiring law clerks from Yale Law School because they believe the school supports cancel culture and intolerance. Their decision, which only applies to future matriculants at Yale, was intended to send a message to the law school’s administration and dissuade prospective conservative students from attending Yale.
Yale’s unique admissions procedure is an overlooked factor contributing to the hostile political environment. Unlike other law schools, where administrative bureaucrats make the decisions with only minor input from professors, Yale primarily has a faculty-driven admissions process. As a result, conservatives like myself are usually weeded out, and only a handful are accepted each year.
After filtering out applicants not academically qualified, files are randomly passed on to three professors, who then rate them on a scale from two to four. However, these professors are not moored to any objective criteria and are free to give scores as they see fit. Applicants that receive a rating of four from each professor are automatically admitted. If an applicant earns mixed scores, the file is sent back to the admissions office for further consideration.
So, while Yale administrators select some students, most of the student body is determined by an overwhelmingly leftist faculty, lacking any conservative input. Moreover, the faculty review process includes not only the liberal academic-focused faculty but also “clinical” professors who are focused on specific aspects of legal practice. These clinical professors tend to lean even further to the left and teach activist legal clinics on subjects such as “Reproductive Rights and Justice” and “Mass Incarceration.”
This is not to say every professor is actively discriminating against conservatives, but it’s a known fact that people tend to prefer others with similar interests and backgrounds. Left to their preferences, it’s not a stretch to think progressive Yale professors might look more favorably upon an Oberlin graduate who worked at Planned Parenthood compared to a Hillsdale graduate who worked at Americans United for Life. And at a small school like Yale, with an average entering class of only 200 students, this bias can have an outsized effect on the school’s culture. It emboldens a minority of radical left-wing students to peer pressure moderate liberals even further to the left.
At other law schools such as Harvard, the University of Chicago, and Notre Dame, the deans have greater ability (and desire) to prioritize intellectual diversity from the top down in the admissions process. They can make clear to their admissions directors that they value conservatives on campus. At Yale, however, the process is much more decentralized, and the university is starting to feel the consequences of this.
Of course, the unique admissions process is only one factor contributing to the recent antics at Yale. So perhaps the judges are correct, and Yale is a lost cause regardless. On the off chance that the law school is not too far gone, prioritizing hiring conservative law professors and admitting more conservative students must be part of the solution. For better or worse, leading liberal legal scholars and jurists will continue to rise from Yale. If conservatives give up on law schools like Yale, we risk allowing progressive legal theory to fester in an intellectual bubble without challenge from the right.