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Lone official overstated Claremont McKenna scores, report says

Claremont McKenna College's president did not unduly pressure the former admissions vice president or push him to take unethical actions, an outside inquiry finds.

April 18, 2012|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times

An investigation has found that Claremont McKenna College's former vice president for admission and financial aid acted alone in exaggerating freshmen SAT scores and other statistics, which boosted the school's national rankings, according to a report released Tuesday.

The probe, conducted by the O'Melveny & Myers law firm for the college, reported that no individual student's record was altered — only aggregate scores and other data were changed. It also showed that not only were test scores manipulated, as was previously announced, but that class ranking statistics and other information also appeared to have been altered in ways to make the college look better than it was.

The former vice president, Richard Vos, contended that he acted in response to intense pressure from Claremont McKenna President Pamela Gann to become a more selective college, the report said. He told investigators that he was not aiming to affect the college's placing in U.S. News & World Report's listings but to placate Gann with false statistics.

The law firm said that Gann did not push Vos to take unethical actions and that any pressure she exerted did not exceed "the norm for an executive-level employee."

In an interview Tuesday, Gann said she was gratified that the report confirmed the college's initial statement that no other employee was involved. She said Vos may have "genuinely felt pressure" from her, but she added, referring to the report, that her "performance expectations were totally reasonable."

Vos resigned in January, just before Gann announced that the 1,320-student liberal arts college had discovered the data hyping, which apparently began in 2004. The scandal was a blow to the school's reputation and raised questions about the accuracy of national rankings that rely on such data.

The college is making reforms to ensure that student statistics are independently verified and that no individual has the power to change them, Gann said. The school will have "the best practices that can be developed in higher education," she said.

The college does not intend to pursue criminal or civil charges against Vos, Gann said. Vos could not be reached for comment.

The manipulation was wider than initially believed, extending to ACT scores and such statistics as what share of freshmen graduated in the top 10% of high school classes. Some of Vos' calculations were "undocumented, not replicable and ad hoc," the report said.

U.S. News ranked Claremont McKenna the ninth best liberal arts college, up from 11th the year before. With accurate information, the school is likely to have fallen at least one rung, magazine officials said. Kiplinger, the finance magazine, earlier this year dropped the campus from its list of best values in liberal arts colleges.

Harry McMahon, chairman of Claremont McKenna's Board of Trustees, said he deeply regretted the episode but was pleased the school is moving forward. "Throughout its history, the college has been defined by its core values of honesty and responsible leadership," he said. "While these events do not reflect our values, our response does."

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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