The American Bar Association has censured and fined Rutgers School of Law-Camden $25,000 for admitting students who had not taken the Law School Admission Test.
The ABA’s accreditation standards effectively require law schools to use the LSAT in admissions decisions, though schools may obtain a variance allowing them to use other standardized tests.
From 2006 to 2012, Rutgers-Camden ran a special program that admitted students using scores from other graduate tests—including the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), according to the censure issued by the ABA’s Accreditation Committee.
The school did not obtain the ABA’s permission to do so, and did not evaluate or provide evidence that those alternative tests are valid and reliable predictors of success in law school.
An average of 7 percent of the law school’s new students were admitted under the special program during the six years it was in operation, according to the accreditation committee. That annual figure fluctuated between 1 percent and 10 percent.
The censure notes that the alternative admissions program helped the law school to increase the size of its new classes and improve its acceptance rate without hurting its LSAT percentile scores, which schools must report annually to the ABA and which factor heavily into U.S. News & World Report’s influential law school rankings.
“The [accreditation committee] also was mindful of the necessity to deter the Law School and others law schools from disregarding the requirements of the standards,” the censure reads.
Dean Rayman Solomon acknowledged that Rutgers-Camden was negligent in failing to disclose the program to the ABA after 2009, when ABA administrators sent a memo to all law schools clarifying that they had to provide evidence of the validity of any other test beyond the LSAT or seek a formal variance allowing them to use a different admission test. But he said the school was not hiding the program and discussed it with ABA administrators twice before that memo was issued.
“We believed we were in compliance prior to 2009,” Solomon said. “We obviously believed were in compliance after 2009, but we were negligent there.”
Even if Rutgers-Camden believed it was in compliance prior to 2009, which the accreditation committee did not determine to be the case, officials should have sought guidance from the ABA or requested a variance after the clarifying memo was released, according to the censure.
ABA officials declined to comment beyond the censure, citing confidentiality rules surrounding accreditation matters.
Solomon said the special admissions program was intended to help round out the size of incoming classes and give applicants who missed the June administration of the LSAT a chance to start law school in the fall. He said the school only admitted students with relatively high scores on those alternative graduate admission tests.
Rutgers-Camden suspended the special admissions program in May 2012 after ABA officials questioned it, according to the censure. The ABA had been tipped off that the law school was soliciting applicants who had not taken the LSAT.
Four months later, Rutgers-Camden applied for a variance that would allow it to continue to admit students without an LSAT score, citing the strong academic performance of the students who had earlier been admitted through the program. The school later withdrew that application.
The accreditation committee held a hearing on the matter in June, which was followed by proceedings before the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. The censure was the result of a settlement with the ABA, Solomon said.
In addition to the $25,000 fine, Rutgers-Camden must prominently post the censure on its website for a year. The money collected from the fine will be used to help the ABA ensure law schools comply with its standards, according to the censure.
The Rutgers-Camden censure also represents the latest attempt by the ABA to impose heftier penalties on law schools that are found to violate accreditation standards and to hold those schools publicly accountable.
Last year, the ABA fined the University of Illinois College of Law $250,000 for inflating the academic credentials of its incoming students for years. Villanova University School of Law was censured for a similar violation in 2011, but did not receive a monetary fine.