Villanova Law censured by ABA over admissions-data fraud, but retains accreditation

The school could have lost accreditation, the ABA said, but its quick action to fix the problem made that unnecessary.
The school could have lost accreditation, the ABA said, but its quick action to fix the problem made that unnecessary. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 16, 2011

Calling Villanova University Law School's grade-inflation scandal reprehensible and damaging, the American Bar Association on Tuesday censured the school for releasing fraudulent admissions data but also lauded it for acting quickly to disclose the problem.

The bar association said that the law school would retain its accreditation.

The ABA section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar said that the infractions were serious enough to warrant removing the school's accreditation but that Villanova's quick action to correct the problem made that step unnecessary.

The ABA required that the law school post a copy of the censure on its website and said copies would be distributed to the deans of other accredited law schools.

With the ABA announcement, the law school ended six months of silence on the issue, providing more detail about the grade-inflation scandal, first disclosed by the law school itself in February, and the steps it had taken to fix the problem.

John Y. Gotanda, the law school dean, said in an e-mail to law school faculty, students, staff, and alumni that the falsified data had been limited to a small number of administrators and admissions staff, who are now gone.

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

Villanova disclosed Feb. 7 that grade-point averages and LSAT scores for incoming freshmen had been inflated for an unspecified number of years before 2010. It hired the Boston-based law firm of Ropes & Gray to conduct an investigation.

Grade-point averages and scores on law school admissions tests are reported annually to the ABA as part of its accreditation process, and the information is used by U.S. News & World Report to compile its annual rankings.

The Villanova probe covered the years from 2005 through 2010, and in the years that the data were altered, divergence between the real and reported scores was relatively small. The median reported LSAT scores in 2009, for example, were 162 compared with an actual median of 159.

Gotanda said the law school had reconfigured its admissions office and had hired KPMG, an accounting and consulting firm, to recommend changes in its data collection and reporting systems. He said the law school had offered to hire an independent compliance monitor for two years to make sure that its admissions data are reliable.

Villanova's disclosure of falsified admissions data triggered fresh scrutiny of law school statistics. Much of the focus has been on the reported success rate of graduates in finding jobs.

Two ABA committees are examining the employment issue and the reliability of the data. Those examinations are not likely to be as intensive as the review of Villanova and its admissions data.


Contact staff writer Chris Mondics at 215-854-5957 or cmondics@phillynews.com.

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