Emory Intentionally Misreported Admission Numbers, Internal Investigation Finds

Emory has intentionally misreported data to organizations that rank colleges and universities for more than a decade, according to the results of a three-month internal investigation announced Friday morning.

University President James W. Wagner disclosed the findings of the investigation to the Emory community in a school-wide email.

In May, John Latting, the recently appointed assistant vice provost for undergraduate enrollment and dean of admission, discovered that Emory submitted misrepresented information to “various external audiences,” specifically to groups that use statistical data to produce institutional rankings, according to an Aug. 17 University statement.

The Office of Admission serving the College and the Office of Institutional Research sent organizations SAT and ACT scores for admitted undergraduate students, rather than the requested scores of enrolled students, which were lower. Emory also misreported the high school class rank of incoming freshmen.

To ensure objectivity, Emory’s Office of General Counsel conducted the internal investigation with the help of an outside firm, Jones Day. The results have revealed that two former deans of admission and leadership in the Office of Institutional Research were aware of the misreported information, according to the statement. The individuals involved are no longer employed at the University.

“The actions of [these employees] are no longer associated with Emory, and they all fall well below of what we expect of Emory,” Steve Sencer, Emory’s general counsel, said in a press briefing via phone on Friday.

The University does not intend to release the names of the employees involved because this situation is a personnel matter, Emory said in a “Questions and Answers About Data Reporting” page on its website. The investigation found no evidence that members of the Offices of the Provost, Dean or President were aware of or involved in the misreported information.

Latting become the dean of admission last December. He replaced Jean Jordan, who took over the position in 2007 after serving as director of enrollment services at Emory for 11 years. She succeeded Dan Walls, who became associate vice provost for enrollment after serving as dean of admission since 1983.

Jordan did not respond to email messages seeking comment. A secretary at the Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta, where Jordan served as director of college counseling after her time at Emory, said she no longer works there, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that she resigned during the weekend. In her resignation letter she wrote that she wished to “pursue another endeavor.”

As of press time, Walls did not respond to emails, and he did not return a phone call to his number at Pace Academy in Atlanta, where he worked in college counseling after leaving Emory in 2010. His number listed in the Emory Directory has been disconnected. His name is no longer listed on the Pace website.

“I have to take responsibility even though some of the data was delegated to others,” Walls said in an interview with the AJC. “It happened under my deanship.”

The Misreported Information

The University annually reports statistical information to the Common Data Set (CDS) — which is used by the College Board, Peterson’s and U.S. News and World Report — in addition to data that individual companies request. Emory also submits information to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), a system of surveys that the U.S. Department’s National Center for Education Statistics conducts annually.

The 2010 CDS data showed that incoming students’ SAT scores ranged from 1310 at the 25th percentile to 1500 at the 75th percentile. The corrected data shows that the scores actually ranged from 1270 to 1460.

In addition, the University reported that in 2010, 87 percent of students graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class, while that number was actually 75 percent.

Prior to 2004, Emory may have also excluded the bottom 10 percent of students when reporting SAT/ACT scores, GPAs and the top decile, or the percentage of entering students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

Emory submitted the correct data for 2011 to U.S. News in June and “will submit corrected data to each publisher and data source as its deadline rolls around for new submissions,” the University said on its website.

Launching the Investigation

Latting discovered the misreported information shortly after the May 1 deadline for potential students to accept or reject Emory’s offer of admission. He recognized discrepancies in data and informed the Office of the Provost.

“I pulled up last year’s class and read a bunch of statistics on them, and then I noticed that what had been reported in print was somewhat different,” Latting said. “That was the moment I thought, ‘why was the reported data so different from what I had calculated myself when I was looking at that class?’”

Being new to Emory, Latting said he “trusted the Provost and other leadership” to handle the issue effectively. The University “acted swiftly” in launching an investigation, according to Wagner.

“We are holding ourselves accountable for no other reason than to follow through and commit ourselves to being an ethically engaged university,” Wagner said.

Emory’s investigation focused on three main points, according to the University statement: whether incorrect data was submitted, who was responsible and involved, and how and why this practice began.

In the past, faculty in Office of Admissions were directed — and encouraged — to continue misreporting the data, according to Sencer. There were a “number of individuals who respected the lines of authority and were told by their superiors that this is how they did it,” Ron Sauder, vice president of communications and marketing, said during the press briefing.

Administrators said it is unclear when and under what circumstances these actions began.

The Next Steps

In releasing the results of the investigation to the public, University administrators have been stressing the importance of integrity.

“This really was a shock and people really wanted to get back on the right track and whatever it took, they were willing to do that, and there was no sense of ‘how can we keep this quiet,’” Latting said. “We’re going to have a great admissions operation and we’re going to keep bringing in great students.”

The Office of the Provost has announced changes to the ways in which Emory collects and reports data, and has launched a corrective action plan outlining these alterations.

Provost Earl Lewis said during the press briefing that the University is “implementing new internal controls to ensure a system of checks and balances in the manner of data.” Each unit that submits data to Institutional Research must now “attest to its validity,” according to the action plan.

The Provost will establish an independent Data Advisory Committee (DAC) consisting of faculty from multiple divisions within the University to review policies and procedures for data reporting. The DAC — which will be led by Assistant Vice Provost for Academic Planning Nancy Bliwise — will meet at least once each semester to provide a written report to the President’s cabinet, Lewis said. Bliwise is currently reviewing all procedures for reporting and collecting data.

In addition, the Office of Admission will appoint a data analyst to “ensure accuracy in the analysis of large data sets,” according to the plan.

“We’re going to have someone who’s really an expert on statistics and will take that role on,” Latting said.

The University is in the process of correcting submitted misreported data, according to Lewis.

The final component of the corrective action plan is “supporting a culture of integrity and open communications,” the plan states. Staff members involved in data collection throughout the past will attend additional meetings to “ensure they understand Emory’s approved processes going forward,” according to the action plan. The plan encourages the Emory community as a whole to bring issues of concern to their supervisors or the Emory Trust Line at 1-888-550-8850.

Sauder emphasized that although the misreported information may be a “blow” to the school’s reputation, it is also an opportunity “to begin rebuilding by the way we’ve managed this institution.”

“We are very confident that the investigation was thorough,” he said.

Features Editor Roshani Chokshi and Asst. News Editor Stephanie Fang contributed reporting.

— By Jordan Friedman