The law school at Villanova University has been censured for submitting falsified admissions data for several years to the American Bar Association, allegedly at the behest of former administrators.
The action comes months after Villanova first disclosed publicly that staff members inflated the school's median grade-point averages and scores on the Law School Admissions Test. Both data sets often factor into law school rankings.
"I think this group of individuals, they were very careful to keep it secret, not to draw any sort of red flags," law school Dean John Gotanda said Tuesday.
Villanova's average LSAT scores were padded by two to three points between 2005 and 2009, Gotanda said. The median GPA was raised by up to 0.16 points.
The law school at the Catholic university near Philadelphia could have lost its accreditation because of the scandal. But the bar association instead issued a public censure Friday because of Villanova's self-reporting and thorough remedial action. The school must post the reprimand on its website for two years.
Misrepresenting the data was "reprehensible and damaging" to prospective applicants, law students and the legal profession, said bar association legal education consultant Hulett Askew.
Gotanda, who took office at the beginning of the year, publicly acknowledged the doctored data in February but did not fully explain the situation pending a review by the bar association.
He wrote in a letter to alumni on Monday that Villanova hired outside investigators in January after an internal committee identified statistical discrepancies. The committee had been examining possible correlations between students' LSAT scores and bar passage rates.
Investigators found that the law school's former dean, ex-associate dean, ex-assistant dean and the former admissions director worked together to inflate the median scores and GPAs, according the censure notice.
The former dean resigned in 2009 amid a prostitution investigation, though he was not charged. The other three staffers, who were not named, either resigned or were dismissed.
Villanova's review also revealed inflated LSAT scores and GPAs for the 75th and 25th percentiles of the incoming classes. In addition, investigators found inaccurate reporting of the number of admission offers extended between 2007 and 2009, making the school appear more selective.
"Such misconduct will never occur again at Villanova," Gotanda wrote to alumni. "I want to assure you that the actions of a few former employees do not reflect the true character or culture of our institution or our people."
The dean on Tuesday also described the misreporting as an "odd" scheme, considering the inflation "didn't propel us into the top 50." U.S. News & World Report ranked Villanova No. 67 before the scandal; it's now No. 84, based on unaltered data for the entering class of 2010.
Those students had a median GPA of 3.33 and median LSAT scores of 160, according to the school's website.
The fallout has contributed to a 19 percent reduction in applications for this year's class, Gotanda said, noting a much steeper decline than the national drop-off of 11.5 percent.
But he noted that Villanova also shut down the law school's admissions office during the investigation. Students and alumni then stepped up to help recruit and support the school, Gotanda said.
"In the face of admitted wrongdoing that was very damaging to our reputation, the community did come together," he said.
Law schools are facing increased scrutiny of the accuracy of their statistics, especially job placement figures, as students weigh the cost of a degree against prospects for employment.
Earlier this month, the bar association announced it would begin requiring schools to report specific job-related data, including alumni employment status, types and locations.
Previously, the schools voluntarily provided the data to a trade group, the National Association for Law Placement. The group and the bar association will collaborate on collecting the information.
Kathy Matheson can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/kmatheson