Separate investigation of law school under way

Separate investigation of law school under way

The American Bar Association, which accredits law schools across the country, is conducting its own inquiry into inflated academic scores at the University of Illinois College of Law.

Meanwhile, President Michael Hogan said the UI Board of Trustees is considering a review of other academic units across campus and how they report academic data to accreditation agencies.

"Do we need to find some way of guaranteeing that the same thing that happened in the College of Law this time hasn't happened elsewhere?" he said Monday.

The review will be led by the UI's internal auditing office and the vice president for academic affairs, he said. He hopes to initiate that process within the next three months.

Campus legal counsel Scott Rice, who co-authored the report on the law school, said it's unclear whether the UI College of Law will be sanctioned by the ABA.

"That's one of the reasons that we took this so seriously and responded so swiftly," Rice said.

The ABA appointed a fact-finding group that visited campus in late September, Rice said. The group has a copy of the UI report and will conduct its own process in coming months and "will work with them going forward," he said.

Hogan said he was "very satisfied" with the results of the investigation. He said he wanted it to be exhaustive in part because of problems with other law schools inflating bar-exam scores or career placement data.

"It just seemed smart ... (to) broaden the scope of the investigation to include all of these other areas to make sure the problems we saw in one weren't pervasive," Hogan said Monday.

Hogan noted that UI investigators found no evidence of wrongdoing in financial aid and scholarships, bar exam passage rates or career placement data. However, the report noted that financial aid records were somewhat incomplete and that vesting sole control over financial aid in one person was a "serious deficiency that should be remedied."

The UI pledged to implement all eight recommendations in the report, including prompt correction of erroneous data. The latest annual report to the ABA, submitted Monday, had corrected data, said Margaret Daley of the Duff & Phelps advisory firm.

Rice said that in future years the UI will hire an outside auditor to review the data, at least initially.

Other recommendations:

— The college dean should conduct a comprehensive review of control procedures and implement "best practices" for staffing and operations of the admissions office, including better segregation of duties.

Under the old system, the data reporting and verification duties were consolidated in one person, Paul Pless, "who stood to benefit professionally and personally from positive outcomes," the report said. Also, access to the database was restricted to admissions office employees who had to answer to Pless.

— The college should implement "robust" internal monitoring and auditing to ensure that internal controls are functioning and that all data are verified.

— The College of Law should champion reforms that would be a "model" for heightened transparency, avoid placing undue emphasis on any particular factor in the admissions process and continue to reinforce a commitment to openness and integrity.

This story appeared in print on Nov. 8.

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