We shouldn’t be surprised that the American Bar Association barely cares about law schools misleading prospective law students when the organization doesn’t even really seem to mind when law school lie directly to the ABA itself. The Villanova Law LSAT scandal has been resolved, and boy are you going to be underwhelmed by the penalties associated with lying to the ABA for four years.

For those who haven’t been following along, an investigation revealed that former Villanova administration officials misrepresented the median LSAT scores and GPAs of incoming Villanova students. The deceit took place for many years. Investigators later found that Villanova also falsely reported the number of admission offers extended to Villanova applicants.

These are pretty serious findings against the school. You’d expect the punishment to be severe… unless you’ve actually been paying attention to how the ABA operates. If you are an ABA watcher, you know that this is an organization that thinks wrists are for slaps, not for cuffs.

Either way, all will find it amusing to listen to Villanova Law Dean John Gotanda try to explain how the meaningless sanction was only achieved because Villanova took the matter so seriously….

The penalty for Villanova’s actions are a public censure. For two years. Here’s how the ABA Journal explains it:

In a letter (PDF) on Friday to the university’s president and the dean of the Villanova University School of Law, the section’s council says the law school’s intentional reporting of inaccurate information to the ABA would have justified putting the institution on probation or removing it from the list of ABA-approved law schools.

However, because Villanova self-reported the problem to the ABA, corrected it “and separated from the law school all persons responsible for the misrepresentations and misleading conduct,” lesser sanctions were imposed, the letter says.

They include a public censure that the law school must post online for the next two years.

But do they have to post, say, accurate graduate employment statistics on their website for two years?

Sorry, this isn’t the right post for that. This is the post where we learn that the ABA seems to have put the majority of the blame on the former Villanova Law dean. The ABA report doesn’t mention this “former dean” by name, but our readers will recognize the work of the imitable Mark Sargent. If you don’t remember Dean Sargent, and have no idea who peanut girl is, click on some links.

In the meantime, the current Villanova Law dean is probably busy dancing a tarantella. Dean John Gotanda sent a letter out to all Villanova students about the censure (reprinted in full at the end of this post). Some might say that he is damn near gloating:

On Monday, August 15, 2011, the ABA Council of the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar announced its decision with respect to this matter. The ABA Council found that the misreporting of admissions data in ABA Annual Questionnaires violated ABA Standards and, as a result, it issued a public statement of censure condemning the wrongful acts. This sanction in no way affects our accreditation or our status as an ABA approved Law School. The Law School was not placed on probation or fined. Rather, the Council found that we had remedied the violations.

In fact, while the Council’s statement condemns inaccurate reporting of admissions data by some now former employees, as we do, it recognizes that this administration acted in an open, honest and remedial way.

No probation, no fine. Apparently guys in my high school lied to the ABA for four years all the time, it was no big deal.

Again, at least the ABA is consistent. Accurate information is just not something the organization takes seriously.

ABA Raps Villanova re Inaccurate Admission Data, Says Law School Must Post Censure Online [ABA Journal]

Earlier: Villanova Scandal Watch: More Cryptic Emails From the Dean

VILLANOVA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW — MEMORANDUM — UPDATE ON ABA SITUATION

Dear Villanova Law School Alumni:

Earlier this year, I informed you of an unfolding situation in which Villanova Law School had discovered that inaccurate admissions information – particularly LSAT scores and grade point averages of several entering classes – had knowingly been provided to the American Bar Association by certain individuals who are no longer at the Law School.

I am writing to update you on the situation and share with you the work that’s been done and the measures we have taken to assure that this type of misconduct never again occurs at Villanova Law School. I apologize that we have not been able to update you sooner. However, until recently, our matter had been pending before two ABA Committees – first the Accreditation Committee (the fact finding body) and then the Council of the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, and we were unable to issue any public statements about the matter until the ABA process was concluded last week.

On Monday, August 15, 2011, the ABA Council of the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar announced its decision with respect to this matter. The ABA Council found that the misreporting of admissions data in ABA Annual Questionnaires violated ABA Standards and, as a result, it issued a public statement of censure condemning the wrongful acts. This sanction in no way affects our accreditation or our status as an ABA approved Law School. The Law School was not placed on probation or fined. Rather, the Council found that we had remedied the violations.

In fact, while the Council’s statement condemns inaccurate reporting of admissions data by some now former employees, as we do, it recognizes that this administration acted in an open, honest and remedial way. Specifically, the Council found that the University and the Law School immediately “investigated the wrongdoing; self-reported to the ABA, its students and others; and separated from the Law School all persons responsible for the misrepresentations and misleading conduct.”

Importantly, the Council also concluded that the “Law School has also taken remedial actions to ensure that misrepresentations and misleading conduct will not occur in the future.” In light of the ABA’s decision, I would now like to share with you the details of this matter.

I. Our Investigation

We conducted a textbook investigation, which was prompt and comprehensive.

On January 20, 2011, several weeks after assuming the position of Dean of Villanova Law School, I 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. I immediately notified the University’s General Counsel about these apparent inaccuracies and the following day the University engaged the law firm of 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. 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.” 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. Only a few key former employees in the past administration were found to have engaged in this misconduct. No one else currently serving here, including administration, faculty and staff, were involved in the misconduct.

The investigation determined that these employees 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 .16. The audit found that there were no inaccuracies in the admissions data submitted for the 2010 entering class.

We did not stop here, however. On our own initiative, the Law School expanded the investigation to determine whether any other data had been misreported to the ABA. 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.

To assure a thorough review of our procedures, the Law School also investigated financial and placement data. The University’s Controller’s Office was asked to review two years of financial data submitted to the ABA. In addition, the Law School retained an accounting firm with Certified Public Accountants, Certified Internal Auditors and Certified Fraud Examiners to conduct an independent audit of two years of employment data. Both the University Controller’s review of financial data and the independent audit of employment data found no material errors in the Law School’s reports to the ABA.

II. Our Remedial Steps

We took prompt and comprehensive remedial action.

* We corrected the inaccurate submissions, and held those responsible accountable for their actions. The individuals involved no longer work at the Law School.
* We reconfigured our Admissions Office.
* We appointed a new Admissions Committee with greater oversight responsibilities and instituted a review of admissions policies.
* Within two weeks of discovering that inaccurate admissions data had been reported to the ABA, we publicly disclosed this to our various constituencies, including faculty, staff, students, alumni, the ABA, the Association of American Law Schools, the Law School Admissions Council and U.S. News and World Report.
* We hired the international consulting firm KPMG to complete a comprehensive diagnostic assessment of the Law School’s entire data collection and reporting system. Based on KPMG’s findings and recommendations, we have developed and implemented new controls and procedures to put into place a system of checks and balances in the data collection and reporting system that is unprecedented in legal education and will result in data that is not only accurate, but also complete, verifiable and, ultimately, above reproach.
* We are in the process of engaging a firm to conduct independent audits over the next two years of the data that we report to the ABA.
* We also offered to retain an independent compliance monitor for the next two years. This extraordinary step, which was adopted by the Council, reflects our steadfast commitment to putting in place a system that will give all constituencies confidence in the accuracy and completeness of our reports.

We have not only been committed to designing and implementing measures to ensure that such misconduct never happens again at Villanova, but have worked with the ABA to help develop new procedures and techniques to improve the integrity of the data reporting system in all law schools. We have shared our findings with respect to the audit of employment data and the KPMG report with the ABA Consultant, as well as with ABA Standards Review Committee and the ABA Questionnaire Committee. In fact, as part of its decision, the Council has directed that we inform other law schools of our new practices with respect to the collection and reporting of data.

* * *

In short, we have promptly and thoroughly investigated the matter. We have taken steps to ensure that wrongdoing will not be tolerated and that the Law School will conduct its affairs in an open, honest and remedial way. Going forward, the information provided to the ABA and other parties will be accurate, complete, and verifiable, and such misconduct will never occur again at Villanova.

III. Our Commitment

Once again, I want to assure you that the actions of a few former employees do not reflect the true character or culture of our institution or our people. On behalf of the Law School, I apologize to you and the entire community. I am not proud of the conduct that has produced this outcome; however, I am proud of the way our institution and our people have responded.

In the closing of my presentation to the Council, I asked the Council to recognize that the character of Villanova Law School is not reflected by the acts of a few former employees and hoped that it would “be able to see that the real character of our Law School has been reflected in every one of the responsible actions we have taken since we discovered that misconduct.”

As I explained to the ABA, “From the very top of the University on down – the President, the Board of Trustees, our University Counsel, our administrators, and our faculty – there has never been any wavering in our commitment to prompt self-reporting, thorough investigation and remediation, and the development of a model system of accountability. I’ve been privileged to witness an extraordinary dedication of time and energy by our faculty, staff, students, and alumni to remedying the harms that have been inflicted, and to restoring our good name. No Dean could ever ask for anything more than the support I have received from the University and from the Law School community. I know that this effort will continue for many years to come.”

Thank you for all of your support. Over the past several months, I have personally spoken with many of you and others of you have contacted me to share your support as well as your trust and belief in the Law School. You – our alumni – are the best proof of who we are and what we stand for. You, your accomplishments, and your actions demonstrate unequivocally that this incident was an aberration and an unfortunate breach of trust for all of us. United with you, I can say with complete confidence that Villanova University School of Law will continue to prosper, thrive and grow even stronger.

Sincerely,

John Y. Gotanda
Dean and Professor of Law
Villanova University School of Law


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