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U. of Ill. investigation faults law school dean

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – An assistant dean at the University of Illinois College of Law inflated grades and entrance exam scores for incoming students in data that was posted online, according to a report released Monday by the university.

University officials said Paul Pless was placed on administrative leave and has since resigned. They say an outside law firm and a forensic data analysis company was hired in September after complaints and the discovery that data posted for the class of 2014 was inaccurate.

“The investigation has concluded that a single individual, no longer employed by the college, was responsible for these inaccuracies,” law school Dean Bruce Smith said in a statement. “The college takes seriously the issue of data integrity and intends to implement the report’s recommendations promptly and comprehensively. As the report properly recognizes, the College of Law remains one of the nation’s premier law schools. We are confident that we will justify that assessment with data that are accurate, transparent, and unimpeachable.” Pless does not have a listed phone number and could not be reached for comment.

The investigative team, which included the law firm Jones Day and data analysis firm Duff & Phelps, found inaccuracies in six of the 10 years reviewed. In addition to being posted online, the inaccurate data was forwarded to the American Bar Association and ranking organizations, such as the influential U.S. News & World Report.

The investigation found the law school reported inaccurate LSAT and GPA statistics for the class of 2008 and the classes of 2010 through 2014. The law school also reported inaccurate acceptance rate data with respect to the classes of 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Pless, who was assistant dean for seven years, was responsible for reporting the data. Acceptance data showed steady, and occasionally dramatic, improvement in the main factors used to gauge the academic credentials of a law school class. According to the 114-page report, the investigation found data discrepancies were not random or the result of inadvertent errors.

Margaret Daley of Duff & Phelps said the numbers “were altered specifically, and often just slightly,” to meet recruitment goals and ranking targets, indicating an attempt to show the College of Law brought in an even more highly credentialed class.

The report made eight recommendations, including the correction of erroneous data, and controls that include data monitoring, auditing and separation of duties as well as steps to ensure a culture of integrity and ethical conduct.

“The campus has already begun to implement the recommendations in this report,” Illinois vice president Phyllis Wise said in a statement. “Additionally, we will work with each of our colleges to ensure that appropriate checks and safeguards are in place to help ensure that all current and future data are accurate, complete and verifiable.”

Illinois is currently 23rd on Forbes’ list. New rankings are due out in the spring.