The ‘Little Guy Did It’ Syndrome

He acted alone?

The University of Illinois College of Law has concluded that a former assistant dean for admissions and financial aid at the law school was solely responsible for a six-year pattern of misreporting the Law School Admission Test scores and grade point averages of incoming students. The bogus figures were designed to elevate the standing of the school so more students would enroll.

The National Law Journal has reported that a team of investigators concluded that administrator Paul Pless alone altered numbers to meet recruiting goals and to meet targets. Pless, who’d held his post since 2004, resigned on Nov. 4.

The university based its final report on the findings of a team of investigators hired by the university, including a data analysis firm, Duff & Phelps, and law firm Jones Day. The investigators examined LSAT scores, GPAs, bar passage rates, financial aid, scholarships and career placement data.

 Their report cleared law school Dean Bruce Smith of involvement in or knowledge of the deception — although it noted that his “intense” management style could make employees reluctant to bring him bad news. Additionally, the report concluded, the law school’s lack of oversight of the admissions office was one reason the deception went on for years before being discovered.

The findings stand in contrast to an admissions data scandal at Villanova University School of Law, where  the former law dean and three admissions officials were blamed for inflating LSAT scores and GPAs for years.

Dean Smith issued the following statement, presumably with a straight face:

“The investigation has concluded that a single individual – no longer employed by the college – was responsible for these inaccuracies.  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.”

It is a law school but one is tempted to note that lack of evidence that senior officials typed incorrect statistics into a computer program is not the same as the issue of who is responsible for a six-year campaign to dupe prospective students .

At worst, it’s another case of the “little guy did it.”   At best, it’s a renunciation of the hallowed principle: “The Buck Stops Here?”