Assistant dean at UI law school put on leave

Assistant dean at UI law school put on leave

URBANA — An administrator who was a bit player in the "Category I" scandal is now on leave after an apparent problem with reporting admissions data from the University of Illinois' law school.

Paul Pless, assistant dean for admissions in the law school, has not returned a call from The News-Gazette.

UI spokesman Tom Hardy would not confirm that Pless is on administrative leave but did say that the person in question was an assistant dean for admissions in the law school, Pless' former title.

A person answering the phone at the College of Law's admissions office said Pless "is on temporary leave."

The UI acknowledged on Sunday that inaccurate data about the grades and test scores of this semester's incoming first-year law school class was posted on its website.

The data has since been removed. Hardy said the university had not sent the incorrect information to the American Bar Association, which is mandated to collect such information.

Just last month, the ABA's Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar sanctioned Villanova University for inaccurate law school admissions data, according to the ABA Journal.

The UI Ethics Office received information Aug. 26 that led to a review about possible inaccuracies in student profile data.

John Colombo, the law school's associate dean for academic affairs, has been placed in charge of the college's admissions office, which is responsible for the collection and dissemination of student selectivity data.

The data involve Law School Admission Test scores and grade-point averages of the incoming Class of 2014 that may have been inaccurately reported on the College of Law's website and in promotional materials.

On Monday, President Michael Hogan wrote the UI community an email that said, in part:

"This is unpleasant news and is apt to disappoint, even anger, anyone who hears it. At the same time, however, we can also say that a new culture has taken hold at our University. A tone of integrity and transparency is apparent across all of our campuses, and people are no longer reluctant to come forward. We take questionable actions seriously and review them thoroughly and expeditiously."

The UI Ethics Office and Office of University Counsel are leading the review.

Duff & Phelps, an independent advisory firm with expertise in data processing and forensic analysis, has been hired to work on the issue, along with Theodore Chung of the law firm Jones Day, who will conduct the review with the assistance of College of Law officials, Hardy said Sunday.

Pless' name came up in the so-called Category I scandal when he noted in a April 25, 2006, email that "a few spots" in law school would go to "special interest" students in the 2006-2007 school year.

Two days later, he complained that letting in one of the special interest students would jeopardize the goal of a 3.5 median grade point average.

Of the student, he said in April 27 email: "There is no track record of success, and when he is faced with the rigor of our program here, there is no reason to expect anything other than failure."

"I find it hard to justify admitting a student that we know will struggle here and that we know will struggle to pass the Bar."

Julie Wurth contributed to this story.

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Lostinspace wrote on September 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm

If he was a "bit player" in the clout business, why was he still in a position of authority? As he is someone who teaches law and serves as a role model for future lawyers, one might wonder why he is even in a university classroom.

bremax wrote on September 12, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Had you read the article, you would have seen that Pless had a role in that scandal that was limited to complaining about category i admissions.

That said, I am not defending the man at all. Lying for the sake of US News rankings is an endemic problem at law schools, and part of why so many recent law grads find themselves unemployed with house sized debt. He should be fired.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on September 12, 2011 at 5:09 pm
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Correct.

Now, as this story seems to have supplanted the other, I'll paste my observation here:

While I was studying for the bar exam, someone called from the Careers Office. They asked me to declare myself employed. I told them I was working in the same snack bar that I'd worked in since freshman year in college.

"That's employed!" insisted the paper pusher.

It started to dawn on me that the College of Law is not all it purports to be. All the Chicago firms made it clear: they were accepting applications from the top ten percent of my graduating class. B students like myself were free to hang our shingles wherever we liked, but the job offers were going to Harvard grads.

I declined to boost their numbers.

Lostinspace wrote on September 12, 2011 at 5:09 pm

I stand corrected.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on September 12, 2011 at 5:09 pm
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Teach? What gave you that idea?

Only a fraction of university employees teach. I'd be curious to know what that fraction is.

TerrenceD wrote on September 13, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Was this the first time grade point average and LSAT test scores were inflated? Just this year? Doubtful.

The College of Business under Avijit Ghosh and Larry DeBrock did something similar for years by reporting the GPA and GMAT (graduate management admissions test) scores of MBA program applicants who never enrolled. This made the College of Business look like it had higher quality students than it actually did.

I wonder if we'll ever know the truth about how long these shady practices have been going on.

Paul Wood wrote on September 14, 2011 at 9:09 am

Terence, I'd like to hear more. pwood at news-gazette.com

BobLoblaw wrote on October 27, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Mr. Pless is actually an ethical, savvy, and kind administrator. While the law school has certainly engaged in the same strategies as other law schools in a quest for money and prestige, it is hardly Mr. Pless' doing at all.

The school has expanded in size, which was arguably in a quest for money; this allows higher salaries and attracts better professors. The trick is: better students demand scholarships in order to be convinced to come here. Therefore students with lesser credentials must be admitted in order to fund the school. It's a tricky balance game they play. Contemptible? Yes. Realistic given the lack of a huge endowment or other nest egg that would allow the kind of ethical behavior the public demands? Also yes.

Please don't demonize Mr. Pless. I know him fairly well and he isn't who you should be looking at. I imagine this has more to do with some more legitimately megalomaniacal characters at the law school who continue to rise in power. Trust me, I'm in a position to know.