More than a week ago I pointed out that the reported debt numbers for Rutgers-Camden law graduates didn’t appear to make any sense. Within a few hours, with the help of internet crowd-sourcing, it became clear what had happened: Rutgers-Camden was reporting only the law school debt incurred by its graduating class in the class’s third year, rather than, as it was required to by the ABA, over the course of attending the school. (It also became evident that Georgia State and Barry — at least — were making the same “mistake.” The numbers for Southern and Texas Southern are probably wrong in the same way).
On Monday, Rutgers’ Dean Rayman Solomon sent an email to the school’s students, purporting to explain what had happened. Here is the relevant portion:
The third post occurred [this is a reference to the first ITLSS post linked above] on July 18th and questioned our reported number for average indebtedness at graduation. The reported number was incorrect. Here is the sequence of events: each year the ABA asks for information about student indebtedness. The number for average indebtedness was one that until this year had not been publicly reported – it was reported to the ABA and they did not reprint it or disclose it. Our process for determining that number is that one of our administrative staff members gets the data from the University’s financial aid office and fills out the answer to the question. The staff person interpreted the question as asking what the average debt was for a graduating 3L for the third year — not the total three-year indebtedness. This year US News asked for the data and we gave them what we had given the ABA. US News then did a ranking on least and most expensive schools. On the day the ranking came out [in March] I was informed by a fellow dean that we, along with a number of schools, had incorrectly interpreted the question. I immediately informed the ABA of our mistake. The ABA sent out an email to all schools and asked each to verify this number as there were enough schools that had the same problem to require everyone to recheck the information. We worked with financial aid to generate the accurate number, which was more difficult than one might imagine, as it required tracing students who had started in different years and taking out the undergraduate debt of Rutgers graduates. As soon as we could complete the process we reported to the ABA our accurate number. When US News requested the corrected number I supplied it to them. The ABA was completely satisfied that there was no intentional misconduct on our part. However, I sign the ABA questionnaire certification, and I take full responsibility for this mistake.
Dean Solomon is claiming that he knew nothing about this “mistake” (which the law school he’s been running since 1998 has committed every year since at least 2008 ) until March, 2012, when a helpful fellow dean informed him of it. Prior to this year, according to Dean Solomon, only the ABA had this information “and they did not reprint it or disclose it.” So Rutgers-Camden did not benefit from the misreported information, and indeed remained unaware of the mistake until this March.
I will assume that Dean Solomon’s statement that another dean contacted him is true. Every other assertion in the previous paragraph is provably false. The facts are these:
(1) US News has been asking law schools for graduating class debt data since at least the graduating class of 2008. It has been publishing this data on the internet, where any interested party has been able to examine it. (Note that US News gets this data directly from law schools themselves, not from the ABA).
(2) In March of 2011 US News ran a story entitled “Ten Law Degrees With Most Financial Value at Graduation.” This story ranked Rutgers-Camden as providing its graduates with the third-most valuable law degree in the country, measured in terms of the ratio between the purported average law school debt of its graduates and their purported median private sector starting salary.
(3) In November of 2011, the National Jurist ran a story on “Best Value Law Schools,” giving Rutgers-Camden a grade of A- for offering “an affordable education with great job prospects.” Like the March 2011 US News story, this story cited the school’s remarkably low graduate debt totals.
(4) On November 15, 2011, Rutgers’ Media Relations Office distributed a press release to the local and national media, quoting from and linking to both the US News and National Jurist stories ranking Rutgers-Camden as one of the most affordable and best value law schools in the nation. This press release quotes Dean Solomon regarding the US News and National Jurist affordability/best-value rankings:
“These rankings, while gratifying, represent just a glimpse into the Rutgers–Camden law school experience,” says Rayman Solomon, dean of the Rutgers School of Law–Camden. “Our curriculum and faculty prepare our students for success at every level of the profession. In addition to the success of our graduates in the private sector, the Rutgers–Camden law school also prepares them for success in the judiciary and in the public interest sector.
So, in direct contradiction to what he asserted in Monday’s e-mail to his students, Dean Solomon is on record as having known since at least November of last year that US News publishes law graduate debt rankings, and that his school does extraordinarily well in those rankings.
Of course it is utterly fantastic to imagine that Dean Solomon hasn’t been perfectly well aware for several years that Rutgers-Camden has been reporting phony debt numbers to both the ABA and US News since at least 2008. He has been the dean of the school for 14 years; it’s beyond incredible to think he’s been under the impression that Rutgers-Camden graduates actually graduate with debt loads one third as large as those carried by graduates of his school’s most direct competitors for potential students, i.e., Rutgers-Newark and Temple.
What is also beyond incredible is that Dean Solomon thinks it’s a good idea to continue to lie so shamelessly. I am sincerely curious if the ABA is going to do anything about the fact that Dean Solomon is lying to it about when he discovered this mistake.
I’m also curious regarding whether Bob Morse is going to do anything about the fact that as of last Friday Dean Solomon had done nothing to inform US News regarding the radically incorrect numbers US News has been publishing regarding Rutgers since at least 2008 — numbers which by his own admission he has known for at least four months were completely wrong, although I’m fairly confident the internal communications of Rutgers University document that he has known this for much longer (perhaps some enterprising lawyer will try to find out exactly how long).
Also, it would be nice to know when US News is going to bestir itself to correct its webpage reporting average graduate debt, since it now apparently has the correct figure for 2011 from Rutgers (a figure which Dean Solomon omits to mention in his phony mea culpa to his students). In addition, inquiring minds would like to know if US News has bothered to contact Georgia State and Barry, if those schools haven’t sent corrections to the publication themselves. (Needless to say the ABA ought to be looking into these “mistakes” as well).
A final note of incredulity: I’m well aware a lot of people will still somehow find a way to characterize all this as no big deal. The fact that a law school dean has been lying to the ABA for years about a number his school is required to report to the school’s accrediting organization will be treated as somehow not important. The fact that a law school dean has provably known since last year that national publications were running stories publicizing his school on the basis of phony numbers the school has transmitted to the ABA, and he did nothing to correct the public record, will be rationalized away as insignificant (“Anybody who is naive enough to believe those kinds of stories deserves what they get”). The fact that this dean continues even now to repeat these lies to his own students is of no consequence. By now these “kids” should know they’re pretty much screwed, so what’s one more lie on top of all the others?
Destroying the capacity for outrage is in some ways the worst crime these institutions commit.