At some point, the students themselves at Rutgers Law – Camden have to stand up and demand better from their dean and their law school administrators.
We’ve done a number of reports about the shenanigans taking place at Rutgers. The school has been caught pushing questionable job statistics that are arguably misleading to prospective students. The school has been caught in a lie (or an incredible mistake) about the indebtedness of students who graduate from Rutgers Law.
But instead of owning up to these mistakes, or (gasp) apologizing for errors that have brought shame and scorn onto the school, Rutgers Law dean Rayman Solomon continues to produce statements that manipulate and obfuscate the truth of the matter.
Rutgers Law students deserve better from their administration. But they won’t get it until they demand that the people running the law school stop trying to sugarcoat everything, and start trying to improve the school’s commitment to transparency….
Earlier this month, professor Paul Campos busted Rutgers Camden over the school’s inaccurate reporting of the average indebtedness of its graduates. Rutgers Camden had been reporting the indebtedness of just one year of a Rutgers Law education, instead of the debt students graduate with after three years of law school.
Take a step back and think about that for a second. How could a reasonably intelligent person possibly think that the one year figure was accurate? Organizations like the ABA and U.S. News are obviously asking about the indebtedness for graduates after all three years. If it was a mistake, it was a willfully ignorant one.
In any event, Dean Solomon sent out a letter to the Rutgers community trying to explain this and other news stories that have criticized the law school’s commitment to accuracy. Here’s the part of the email where Dean Solomon addresses the school’s misreporting of the indebtedness of its graduates:
The third post occurred on July 18th and questioned our reported number for average indebtedness at graduation. The reported number was incorrect. Here is the sequence of events: each year the ABA asks for information about student indebtedness. The number for average indebtedness was one that until this year had not been publicly reported – it was reported to the ABA and they did not reprint it or disclose it. Our process for determining that number is that one of our administrative staff members gets the data from the University’s financial aid office and fills out the answer to the question. The staff person interpreted the question as asking what the average debt was for a graduating 3L for the third year — not the total three-year indebtedness. This year US News asked for the data and we gave them what we had given the ABA. US News then did a ranking on least and most expensive schools. On the day the ranking came out I was informed by a fellow dean that we, along with a number of schools, had incorrectly interpreted the question. I immediately informed the ABA of our mistake. The ABA sent out an email to all schools and asked each to verify this number as there were enough schools that had the same problem to require everyone to recheck the information. We worked with financial aid to generate the accurate number, which was more difficult than one might imagine, as it required tracing students who had started in different years and taking out the undergraduate debt of Rutgers graduates. As soon as we could complete the process we reported to the ABA our accurate number. When US News requested the corrected number I supplied it to them. The ABA was completely satisfied that there was no intentional misconduct on our part. However, I sign the ABA questionnaire certification, and I take full responsibility for this mistake.
This explanation sounds plausible. Unfortunately, there are things that Dean Solomon says that are demonstrably false. Let’s turn it over to professor Campos (who absolutely destroys Solomon in a great post):
[I]n direct contradiction to what he asserted in Monday’s e-mail to his students, Dean Solomon is on record as having known since at least November of last year that US News publishes law graduate debt rankings, and that his school does extraordinarily well in those rankings.
Of course it is utterly fantastic to imagine that Dean Solomon hasn’t been perfectly well aware for several years that Rutgers-Camden has been reporting phony debt numbers to both the ABA and US News since at least 2008. He has been the dean of the school for 14 years; it’s beyond incredible to think he’s been under the impression that Rutgers-Camden graduates actually graduate with debt loads one third as large as those carried by graduates of his school’s most direct competitors for potential students, i.e., Rutgers-Newark and Temple.
You can read Solomon’s entire letter on the next page. That way, you can put this ridiculous answer into the full self-serving context of the email to students.
Just like his response to the GMAT student solicitation scandal, the dean is giving answers that at best don’t make any sense. At worst, Solomon thinks that his own students who received the email are just too stupid to understand the difference between facts and whatever the hell Rutgers is pushing.
And now it’s time to ask the question that we ask so often around here: WHERE IS THE ABA ON THIS? They just fined Illinois Law for lying about the school’s LSAT scores in order to look better to U.S. News. What about a school the misrepresents how much debt people take on in order to go its law school? Doesn’t the ABA think that DEBT for law students is somewhat important right now?
The ABA isn’t going to do squat, because the organization doesn’t really care about consumer protection. U.S. News is a for-profit magazine, not a regulatory body. That’s why I say that ultimately, the only people who can demand better from Rutgers Law are the students at Rutgers Law. They have to recognize that a dean who can’t or won’t own up egregious mistakes reflects poorly on the entire institution. They have to demand that their school adopts a commitment to accuracy and transparency when it comes to its graduate outcomes. And they need to tell the dean that they expect him to offer statements that aren’t directly in conflict with other statements he makes. Maybe if students tell the dean that they prefer accuracy to spin, Solomon would stop writing these defensive emails.
Truth and transparency are not hard standards to meet. Instead of looking for ways to manipulate the meanings of “employed” and “indebtedness,” the school could just stand on its record. At the very least, producing stats that aren’t misleading to applicants and making statements that don’t strain credulity would keep the school out of “the blogs.”