What will come of Illinois' false LSAT and GPA reporting?

University of Illinois is the second law school this year outed for inflating its students' grade point averages and scores on the Law School Admissions Test, leaving many wondering whether the blunder is commonplace amongst the law school community.

The Champaign, Ill. law school's Class of 2014 isn't as smart as it originally appeared on the school's website, which was wiped clean after the scandal broke this September.

Its median test score on the LSAT is 163, not 168 as the law school posted. And its median undergraduate GPA is 3.7, not 3.81. Weeks later, the school fessed up to also inaccurately reporting data for the law school's classes that entered in fall 2008, fall 2009 and fall 2010.

“I think any unethical behavior at a law school puts the school in a bad light,” said George Cohen, professor at the University of Virginia's law school, who serves as an ethics consultant and expert for law firms. “We should hold ourselves up to high ethical standards if we hope to train students to be ethical lawyers.”

The news is a blow to the reputation of one of the better public law schools in the country, known for producing some of Chicago's best and brightest in bankruptcy and intellectual property law. The school ranks No. 23 by the U.S. News and World Report. That very rating, however, is partially based on  LSAT and GPA data.

“U.S. News believes that inaccurate data reporting is not widespread among the nation's nearly 200 law schools,” said Robert Morse, director of data research at U.S. News, in a blog responding to the inflation infraction. “However, the trend is troubling.”

In August, the American Bar Association censured Villanova University's law school for disseminating incorrect data about their incoming class.

Inflating grades and standardized test data is not just misleading potential students, but it also misleads the ABA, which uses data as part of the accreditation process.

ABA said that Villanova's misrepresentation of its data was “reprehensible and damaging” to prospective applicants and the law community. Villanova must wear that scarlet letter of a statement for the next two years on its website, circulate the news to law schools, as well as tap an independent compliance monitor for two years.

Villanova came clean about the faulty numbers in January, and it's already feeling the brunt of its mistakes — applications were down 19 percent for the entering class this year, which is a greater drop-off than the national average of 9.9 percent.

Now it's Illinois' turn to sit in front of the ABA and wait for a punishment. The matter is currently before the ABA's accreditation committee, according to Hulett "Bucky" Askew, ABA consultant on legal education, who declined to comment further.

“Reporting erroneous data is absolutely unacceptable,” said Illinois President Michael J. Hogan in a late September press release. “The University, the campus and the College of Law place the highest priority on accuracy and integrity, and we will take measures to ensure that this never happens again."

Illinois declined to comment further than what was stated in the release. Paul Pless, assistant dean for admissions at Illinois' law school was reportedly put on leave as a result of the false data.

An investigation is now under way with help of outside counsel, the law firm Jones Day, and forensic analysts Duff & Phelps.

“The ABA could probably impose sanctions against the school if it wanted to based on ethical violations of its lawyer-agents in the school administration under its standards for law schools,” said Cohen.

Since its own public censure, Villanova has cleaned up its act and has put in place a data collection system similar to Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which sets standards for auditing accountability for public companies.

Illinois might want to also consider having future school statistics also audited by some outside group for some period of time to re-establish credibility, Cohen suggests.

“If individual unethical behavior is identified, the school should sanction those people regardless of what the ABA does,” Cohen said. “If any problems in the process of generating or reporting statistics are identified, the school should take steps to correct them and announce publicly what steps are being taken.”
 

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