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The former assistant dean for admissions and financial aid at the University of Illinois College of Law was solely responsible for a pattern of misreporting the Law School Admission Test scores and grade point averages of incoming students, according to the university’s final report on the matter. The university had placed that administrator, Paul Pless, on administrative leave on Sept. 7 pending the inquiry’s outcome, and he resigned his position on Nov. 4, the university said in a formal statement. A team of investigators concluded that Pless, who’d held his post since 2004, “knowingly and intentionally” miscalculated the incoming-student data the school reported annually to both the American Bar Association and U.S. News & World Report. “Numbers were altered specifically, and often just slightly, to meet recruiting goals and ranking targets, indicating an attempt to demonstrate that the College of Law brought in an even more highly credentialed class,” said Margaret Daley, managing director at data analysis firm Duff & Phelps. The university hired Duff & Phelps and law firm Jones Day to review 10 years of admissions data. The investigators examined approximately 125,000 documents containing LSAT scores, GPAs, bar passage rates, financial aid, scholarships and career placement data. The finding that Pless acted alone represented a departure from an earlier admissions data scandal at Villanova University School of Law. There, the former law dean and three admissions officials were blamed for inflating LSAT scores and GPAs for years. Illinois announced on Sept. 28 that a preliminary investigation had revealed that the law school had reported incorrect data for the past three years, in addition to inflating the figures for this year’s incoming class. The university launched the investigation in late August after receiving a tip that this year’s figures were incorrect. The deception started earlier than initially reported, according to the 104-page report released by the university. Incorrect figures were also reported for the class of 2008 and the class of 2010 — meaning the reported data were incorrect for six of the past 10 years. In addition to inflating the median undergraduate GPAs and LSAT scores reported, the school misreported its acceptance rates for the classes of 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014, according to the report. For example, the class of 2012 had an acceptance rate of 37 percent, but reported a rate of 29 percent, which helped the school seem more competitive and helped boost its U.S. News ranking. The investigators found no problems with the job placement, bar passage and scholarship data that the school reported. While Pless apparently upped the LSAT scores and GPAs of some individual applicants, investigators found no evidence that scholarships or admissions were awarded based on the falsified numbers. The magnitude of the data falsification grew over several years, culminating in a significant discrepancy this year regarding the class of 2014. The school reported a median LSAT score of 168, when the actual median was 163. According to the report, Pless inflated the LSAT scores of 109 students and the undergraduate GPAs of 58. He increased LSAT scores for five students by 12 points. The reported academic credentials of the law school’s incoming classes improved dramatically during Pless’ seven-year tenure and the school moved up the U.S. News law school rankings. Pless was praised by the law school administration and saw his pay increase from $72,000 to more than $130,000, according to the report. The document cleared law dean Bruce Smith of involvement in or knowledge of the deception — although it noted that his “intense” management style could make employees reluctant to bring him bad news. Additionally, the report concluded, the law school’s lack of oversight of the admissions office was one reason the deception went on for years before being discovered. The investigators recommended that the law school improve its monitoring of admissions data and spread responsibility for doing so among more administrators — so they could keep an eye on each other. “The campus has already begun to implement the recommendations in the report,” said Phyllis Wise, a university vice president and chancellor of the Champaign, Ill., campus. “Additionally, we will work with each of our other colleges to ensure that appropriate checks and safeguards are in place to help ensure that all current and future data are accurate, complete and verifiable.” The ABA is also investigating the matter and could sanction the law school. In August, it publicly censured Villanova for misreporting admissions data. The Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT and maintains a central application database containing GPA information, announced last month that it may begin verifying the scores and GPAs reported annually by individual schools. Contact Karen Sloan at [email protected].

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