In an unparalleled move, American Bar Association has levied a fine of $250,000 on the University of Illinois' College of Law for intentionally publishing fake entrance exam scores and grades in the marketing materials to enhance the school's image.
The action by the accrediting body of US law schools was made public Tuesday. It has presented itself at a time when law schools are facing added scrutiny amidst the low enrolment rate and concerns about high debt levels among law students unable to find jobs.
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The Bar association has also announced that it is censuring the College of Law and will require the college to hire someone to monitor admission processes and data for the academic years 2012-13 and 2013-14. It has also urged the university to give up an early admission program.
In the five-page censure ABA has harshly criticized the College of Law for allowing the former Admissions Dean Paul Pless to monitor the flow of admissions data and rewarding him with a bump in his salary for meeting the aggressive admission goals. In addition, news media reports claim 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.
"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."
Pless resigned in last November after the university investigated a decade's worth of scores and grades of incoming students after receiving complaints. It included inflated exam scores and grades.
Nevertheless, the Bar Association carried out its own investigation of which the censure was the result. The association found that data was intentionally inflated for the incoming classes of 2005 and 2007 through 2011.
"We are disappointed by the sanctions," the College of Law said in a written statement, adding that it has been ABA-accredited since 1923. A university spokeswoman said separately that the school had taken "corrective action intended to prevent such issues in the future."
Despite the false data, Illinois' law school fell 12 spots in the US and stood at No 35 in World News Report magazine's latest rankings this spring.