American Bar Association fines College of Law $250K, ends iLEAP

The University’s College of Law has been fined $250,000 by the American Bar Association, or ABA, as the organization wrapped up its investigation into the college Tuesday. In Nov. 2011, the University and its hired investigative team found that former assistant dean of admissions and financial aid Paul Pless had manipulated student data for eight years in order to make the college appear more selective.

In the fall, the ABA launched a concurrent investigation into the situation, the findings of which were not released until Tuesday. Pless is not mentioned by name in the ABA’s full report–only by title. The college as a whole will pay the consequences, including the fine. The college must also hire and pay a compliance monitor for the next two academic years in order to independently keep an eye on student data entry.

Additionally, the ABA has effectively ended the Illinois Law Early Action Program, or iLEAP, which allowed University juniors to apply to the college without having to take the LSAT. Permission for this program was granted by the ABA in June 2009 as a “variance” of Standard 503 in the ABA’s accreditation rules. Standard 503 requires that students seeking entrance to accredited law schools must take the appropriate test, in this case, the LSAT, according to

“The Assistant Dean for Admissions was instrumental in the development and implementation of this plan, and noted that a key objective was to secure the enrollment of students with high undergraduate GPAs, without having to count their LSAT scores, with the resulting benefit from a law school ranking perspective,” the report reads. “The variance was not granted by the Council for this purpose and, had the Council been aware of how it would be used, the variance request would have been denied.”

Forensic analysis of Pless’ computer in the fall revealed emails to colleagues in which he admitted his interest in instituting iLEAP. A now infamous quote stated his main concern lay in the iLEAP students’ high academic performance in undergraduate studies.

“I am a maverick and a reformer so I started a new program for U of I undergrads to apply in their junior year and we don’t require the LSAT,” Pless wrote in an email to a colleague on Oct. 28, 2008. “We have additional essays and an interview instead. That way, I can trap about 20 of the little bastards with high GPA’s that count and no LSAT score to count against my median.”

In a move similar to the ABA’s censure of Villanova University’s law school last summer, the organization charged the College of Law with both coming up with a report to be distributed to all accredited law schools and publicly displaying the findings of the investigation for at least two years.