Villanova University School of Law received a publicly issued censure on Monday from an American Bar Association committee investigating the school’s misreporting of admissions data.

The ABA’s Council of the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar said Monday that Villanova’s intentional misreporting of LSAT and GPA data on the ABA’s annual questionnaires violated ABA standards and was “reprehensible and damaging to prospective law school applicants, law school students, law schools and the legal profession.”

The council had adopted the report and recommendations of the ABA’s fact-finding body, the accreditation committee.

The council also found that the school had self-reported the inaccuracies to the ABA, its students and others; had taken steps to ensure it didn’t happen again; and had “separated from the law school all persons responsible” for the misleading conduct and reporting.

“The council further concludes that the violations established justify a sanction of probation or removal from the list of approved law schools but that, in light of the law school’s decision to self-report and to take immediate remedial action, neither of those sanctions should be imposed,” the council said its letter to law school Dean John Gotanda and university President Peter M. Donohue.

As part of its punishment, the law school’s public censure will be sent to the deans of all ABA-approved law schools and will be posted on Villanova Law School’s website and the ABA’s website for two years. Villanova must also issue a public statement of correction to be distributed to all ABA-approved law schools. The statement has to include best practices for reporting and provide the compliance plan the school has adopted to ensure data submissions are accurate.

Villanova will also have to hire and pay for an independent compliance monitor for a period of at least two years. The monitor will be selected by the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and will report directly to the accreditation committee.

What Went Wrong

Gotanda sent a letter to law school alumni and press Monday afternoon explaining the school could not have spoken out on the issue sooner because of the ongoing ABA investigation. In the letter, he said he was finally able to give more detail about the situation.

On Jan. 20, several weeks after becoming dean, Gotanda was informed by a special task force examining the possible correlation between LSAT scores and bar passage, that there appeared to be inaccuracies in the admissions data concerning LSAT and undergraduate GPA that had been reported to the ABA.

Gotanda notified the university’s general counsel and the following day the university engaged law firm Ropes & Gray to conduct an independent document review and investigation.

The investigation found that a small group of employees who had responsibility for admissions were responsible for the reporting of inaccurate data. Those employees asserted that former senior law school administrators directed the misreporting activity, Gotanda said in the letter.

The ABA Committee on Accreditation and Admission to the Bar determined that these individuals “‘acted in secret, and worked to prevent other persons in the law school and the university from learning that admissions data was being misreported to the ABA,’” he said.

Gotanda said the committee also found that “‘neither the law school nor the university had directly or indirectly created incentives for any person to misreport data regarding admissions statistics.’”

“Let me be clear,” Gotanda said. “Only a few key former employees in the past administration were found to have engaged in this misconduct. No one else currently serving at the law school, including administration, faculty and staff, were involved in the misconduct.”

The investigation determined that these employees of the prior administration had submitted inaccurate median, 75th percentile and 25th percentile LSAT and GPA data for a number of years. For years 2005 through 2009, the audit determined that the reported median LSAT scores were 2-3 points higher than the median LSAT scores. The reported median GPA deviated from the audited median GPA from between 0 and 0.16. The audit found that there were no inaccuracies in the admissions data submitted for the 2010 entering class, Gotanda said.

According to the ABA’s public censure, data had been misreported since at least 2002.

According to 2009 data, the university reported a median GPA of 3.44 and an LSAT score of 163 for the top 75 percent and 160 for the bottom 25 percent with a median LSAT score of 162.

The university said its 2010 incoming class, for which the data was correctly reported, had a median GPA of 3.33 and a median LSAT score of 160.

The school fell from 67th on the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings for the inaccurate 2009 data to 84th for 2010 when correct data was provided.

Gotanda said the school did not stop checking LSAT and GPA data.

“On our own initiative, the law school expanded the investigation to determine whether any other data had been misreported to the ABA,” he said. “The investigation revealed inaccurate reporting of the number of offers extended. These inaccuracies affected the yield on the offers of admission reported by the law school in 2007-2009.”

Gotanda said the school also brought in its Controller’s Office and outside accountants to ensure no financial and placement data was misreported. A review of two years of data submitted to the ABA found no “material errors,” he said.

According to the ABA’s public censure, the people found responsible for the misreporting were the former dean, who reportedly directed the misreporting activity; the person who was serving as associate dean for administration and information services and was also a tenured professor of law and law librarian; a person who was serving as assistant dean for admissions and financial aid; and the person who was serving as director of admissions. The latter two were the ones responsible for reporting inaccurate data and the former two directed or oversaw the misreporting, according to the letter.

It was not clear from the letter to whom the “former dean” refers. The last person to serve officially as dean before Gotanda was Mark Sargent, who abruptly resigned in 2009 after helping police with an investigation into a prostitution house that he was seen leaving. The censure says none of the four employees still works at the school and the three other than the former dean all resigned or were dismissed.

A fifth person who left the school in 2006 was also found to have been involved, according to the censure. A message left for Sargent, who was said to be out of town, was not immediately returned by press time.

Aside from firing the people responsible for the misreported data, Villanova reconfigured its admissions office and appointed a new admissions committee with greater oversight responsibilities.

The school also hired KPMG to conduct a diagnostic assessment of the school’s data collection and reporting system.

Based on KPMG’s findings and recommendations, the school implemented a new data collection and reporting system that Gotanda said is “unprecedented in legal education and will result in data that is not only accurate, but also complete, verifiable and, ultimately, above reproach.”