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UCLA dental students sue over accusations

January 23, 2008|Larry Gordon | Times Staff Writer

In an unusual lawsuit against the American Dental Assn., 13 students at UCLA's School of Dentistry contend they were falsely accused of aiding cheaters on a national examination and unfairly denied a chance to defend themselves.

The dental association alleges that the students did not cheat during their own tests but violated rules by remembering and writing down exam questions distributed later to others preparing for a test.

As a result of an investigation last year, the UCLA students face having their passing scores from a 2006 exam session voided and being barred until 2009 from retaking the test, according to documents.

Their lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Los Angeles says that they have suffered personal and professional humiliation because of the allegations and that their careers and plans for further specialized study are in jeopardy. It also contends the students could see financial losses of more than $1 million each because of career delays and further burdens with student loan debt.

While they are appealing the matter to the dental association's Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations, they are seeking financial damages and a temporary restraining order against any disciplinary action. They also want a chance to present witnesses and evidence during their appeals.

Officials of the American Dental Assn. "are aware of the lawsuit. It is under review and we do not have a comment at this time," said Fred Peterson, a spokesman at the organization's Chicago headquarters. According to a policy statement, the examination commission "routinely" conducts investigations in a confidential manner about testing irregularities and does not publicly discuss the outcomes.

The students' attorney, James V. Kosnett of Los Angeles, said that they all dispute the evidence presented against them, which includes a computer disk that reportedly includes their names next to "remembered questions." Computer experts "will tell you that anybody can put anyone's name on a file. All of that can be altered and changed. It proves nothing," Kosnett said.

In response to questions about the case, No-Hee Park, dean of UCLA's school of dentistry, said in a statement that he had not been advised of any dental association action against UCLA students or alumni and that it would be inappropriate to discuss any individual's status. He stressed that the exam was not administered by UCLA and passing it was not a graduation requirement.

The dental association's examination commission is also looking at similar allegations at other California schools. In November, Loma Linda University confirmed that one of its recent dental school graduates was being investigated, and USC confirmed a probe there but would not specify the number of students potentially involved.

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

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