Bar Association Fines University of Illinois Law School

University was posting false exam scores and grades on marketing materials

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    University of Illinois

    In an unprecedented step, the American Bar Association fined the University of Illinois' law school $250,000 on Tuesday for posting false entrance exam scores and grades in marketing materials to improve the school's image.

    The Bar Association also censured the College of Law, will require that the college hire someone to monitor the admissions process and data for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years and give up an early admissions program.

    In the five-page censure, the ABA was sharply critical of the College of Law for allowing one now-former dean -- whom the university has blamed for the inaccurate data — to control the flow of admissions data and reward him with raises for meeting aggressive admissions goals.

    "No matter what the competitive pressures, law schools must not cheat," the statement from the Bar Association's Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar said. "The College of Law cheated."

    In an emailed statement, university spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the law school had already taken steps it believes will fix the cited problems.

    "We are disappointed by the sanctions imposed by the Council but relieved to put this difficult chapter behind us," she said.

    Last September, the university investigated a decade's worth of the entrance-exam scores and grades for incoming students after receiving complaints. It found that data for six of the years reviewed included inflated exam scores and grades.

    The Bar Association, which accredits law schools, also carried out is own investigation, and Tuesday's censure was the result. The association found that data was intentionally inflated for the incoming classes of 2005 and 2007 through 2011.

    The university has said it corrected the data and has taken steps to monitor the flow of new admissions data.

    Paul Pless, the former College of Law dean, resigned in November. He was responsible for reporting the data, which was used to market the school to students.

    The data also was used by the influential U.S. News & World Report, which ranks higher education institutions. Their high scores are prized by universities, and Pless' salary was linked the law school's national ranking.

    Illinois' law school fell 12 spots in the magazine's latest rankings this spring, to No. 35.

    In addition, news media reports revealed Pless used the early admissions program as a way to give students with high GPAs a shot at getting into the law school early — before potentially low LSAT scores could affect the school's profile.

    John O'Brien is the dean of the New England School of Law in Boston and chairs the Bar Association council. He said he believes Illinois' law school was sincere in its efforts to fix the problems it found.

    "I think the people at the university were serious about addressing this," he said in an interview. "I think going forward, it's unlikely, we hope, that we're going to see this again."

    In the censure, the council was particularly critical of giving Pless both the means to inflate data and a motive by tying his pay to rankings. The censure says law school officials "did not adequately appreciate the connection" between the two.

    The fine was the first ever imposed on a school for reporting false data, the association said. The University of Illinois' College of Law also will have to issue a statement to all ABA-approved law schools noting the corrected data.

    The university hasn't made any decisions about hiring a compliance monitor or how much that person will be paid, Kaler said. The ABA will have to approve the hire.