Yale Law School has deleted all of its admissions evaluation data following the requests of some of its students to access their files.
After Stanford students discovered they could request access to their admissions records in accordance with the 1974 Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, Yale Law School has decided to delete all of its evaluation data after each annual admissions cycle. The deleted data includes numerical evaluations made by YLS administrators and faculty as well as the identities of those individuals. The decision was made by law school administrators without notifying faculty or students, and only the first several FERPA requests to the law school were fulfilled before the school decided to eliminate its records. However, the practice of purging admissions data annually is not new. Before 2001, when the school’s applications were submitted on paper, administrators discarded the files after each year.
“Recent FERPA requests prompted us to look at our record-keeping practices, and the decision was made to revert to our previous practice, which was to discard evaluation records after they had fulfilled their intended purpose,” Yale Law School Associate Dean Asha Rangappa said in an email.
Rangappa said the law school decided to delete its evaluations records because allowing students access to their files would expose the notes and numerical evaluations made by professors in the admissions process.
At the law school, professors determine which applicants are eventually accepted.
Law professor and faculty chair of Yale Law School admissions Akhil Amar LAW ’84 said that although he was not involved in the decision, he understands the maintenance and retention of records to be a responsibility of the administration, and not a policy concern that necessarily involves faculty.
Amar also said that he agrees with the administration’s decision to delete the data and feels that it will preserve the unique quality of the law school’s admissions process. According to Amar, the faculty who have been involved in the admissions process over the years have acted under the assumption that all of their comments are confidential.
“Candid evaluations provided by faculty members and others are a critical part of the law school admissions process, and if faculty reviewers knew that this information could be shared with admitted students, they might be reluctant to participate in the process,” Rangappa said.
Moreover, Amar disputed that FERPA opens the door to access admissions files by students. The purpose of FERPA, according to Amar, is to ensure that future employers or other educational institutions receive correct records of student performance with student authorization.
FERPA does not necessarily allow students access to their admissions records, according to Amar. Instead, Amar said, FERPA is designed to allow students the ability to correct mistakes that could potentially exist in academic records.
“As I understand the basic purpose of the law, it is to allow students to have access to files that perhaps might be visible to various outsiders — employers and judges and the like — to correct their records,” Amar said. “When it comes to admissions decisions, that is not part of their academic record; that is not shared with anyone,” Amar said. “[FERPA] is about giving the student privacy and a certain control of the information so that the student can correct any mistakes, and none of that applies to admissions information.”
However, Yale Law School students interviewed expressed a broad range of thoughts on the school’s decision to delete its admissions records.
On March 15, Joseph Pomianowski LAW ’15 wrote a piece in The New Republic on the law school’s decision to delete its admissions records and its relationship with interpretation of FERPA. Based on what the law school has said, it appears that all of the school’s actions were in accordance with the existing FERPA legislation, Pomianowski said.
While Pomianowski said he does not condemn the law school’s decision, he believes that FERPA legislation requires reform.
“I don’t think the content of YLS’s new policy conflicts with FERPA’s purpose,” he said. “But as a general matter, institutions have interpreted FERPA in ways that appear to serve immediate institutional convenience rather than prioritize student concerns. For example, the law school made its changes without written explanation to students before or after the fact, and without soliciting some student feedback. And FERPA allows this.”
Matt Kemp LAW ’15 said that he never considered requesting his admissions records, but he sees most requests as being made to satisfy a student’s individual curiosity about their admission. While he understands the faculty perspective of wishing to maintain a candid discussion during the admissions process, he believes that the purpose of FERPA was to allow students access to the type of information that is a part of admissions records.
While most students agreed that the school did not have a legal obligation to preserve the data, students said that the information could have served other useful purposes, such as evaluating the basis for the law school’s admission of students.
According to Dennis Owrutsky LAW ’15, the law school’s decision to delete its admissions records was irresponsible. In doing so, the school deleted a valuable source of insight into its admissions process, Owrutsky said.
Owrutsky said he and other law school students tentatively planned to combine their collected records and identify any relationship that exists between objective student scores — like the LSAT and GPA — and faculty evaluations, which take place on a scale of 1–4, especially considering students’ social and economic backgrounds.
“[The law school] now lacks the resources to evaluate itself objectively,” he added.
YLS accepted nine percent of total applications in 2013, the most recent year the data is available.
Correction: March 24
A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that Yale Law School deleted all of its admissions records. In fact, only the evaluative numerical scoring by Dean of Admissions Asha Rangappa and members of the faculty, as well as the identities of the individuals who gave each score, were deleted. Admissions files have never contained notes by the faculty or the Dean of Admissions.