President Gann began the discussion by emphasizing honesty, integrity and the core values of the college. Gann felt it was important “to recognize all of the historical work of prior leaders within the college that makes this community what it is.”
The College’s overarching goal was to get to the “root of the problem.” Gann stated that, “there was never a question that we would be forthcoming” about the falsified SAT data. The College wanted to be open and transparent in their findings and get the information out “quickly but accurately.”
Gann went on to explain the chronology of recent events and how the falsely reported data first came to her attention. On January 9, an unnamed source from within the college approached President Gann and raised a question about the accuracy of the SAT data for CMC’s 2011 incoming class.
That day, Gann asked Vice President and Dean Emeritus Jerome Garris to look into the questions raised about the SAT scores. Gann noted that Garris is a man of unquestionable integrity. Over two weeks later, on January 24, Gann sent an email to Garris to check-in on the investigation. She awoke on Wednesday morning, January 25, to an email from Garris. The email included news that someone within the Office of Admission had confessed to falsely reporting SAT data since 2005.
President Gann was in disbelief when she first heard the news.
Richard C. Vos, former Vice President & Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, is widely assumed to be at fault and resigned on Monday after news of the scandal was made public.
On the morning of January 25, Gann immediately notified Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Harry McMahon ‘75, of Garris’ findings. McMahon formed a small working group of board members that met later that day by phone. McMahon, the Board of Trustees, and Gann worked in parallel through this process. “The board was totally in sync with us as we did our work,” said Gann. Gann then held an executive committee meeting over the phone on Thursday and a full meeting of the board on Friday.
Early Monday morning, January 30, the college began telephoning all entities to which the affected data was reported and informing them of the falsified data. At 9:00 AM, Gann met with her senior staff to inform them of the news, and at 10:00 AM, she met with the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid staff. Gann’s email was sent at 11:00 AM to all students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents of current students.
Soon after, Gann informed this year’s Early Decision I applicants—those who had already received notification of their binding admission—and Early Decision II applicants about the falsification of SAT scores.
On Wednesday, February 1, the college formally released the corrected data and sent it to outside agencies, including the New York Times, the LA Times, the college’s auditors, Moody’s Investors Service and other interested parties. The corrected data has not been sent to all entities, but the college hopes to finish their distribution by the end of the day.
Gann emphasized the important distinction between data construction and data reporting. Data construction, she explained, is the way in which the college compiles the data internally. Applicants often take the SATs and the ACTs more than once, and all scores are sent to the college. Like many of its peer institutions, Claremont McKenna takes an applicant’s highest critical reading and highest math score to create the combined SAT score used for the college’s admission decision. If a student’s ACT score is higher than his or her SAT score, the former score is used in the admission process.
Gann explained that now, nearly fifteen to sixteen percent of applicants only submit ACT scores to the college. Since a higher ACT score can trump the SAT score, Gann said, “There will not be an SAT score for every student.”
Data reporting, she explained, is the way in which the college’s admissions data is presented to outside entities. According to Gann, the manipulation of SAT score data was an issue of data reporting and not data construction.
“As far as we know,” said Gann, “there was no falsification of data construction.”
Gann noted two main reasons for how the data could have been misreported for over six years. First, she said, “a sole person had too much authority over the reporting of data.” Gann admitted that there was “no internal checks and balances system in place” when the senior administrator was falsifying reports of the data.
Second, the reported SAT scores “did not trigger suspicion,” said Gann. Gann explained that the data were relatively flat, and “the falsified numbers were almost the same every year.” Nothing in the data raised any suspicions amongst those who saw it.
Citing personnel matters, protected by California privacy law, Gann could not comment on the former senior administrator’s motivation behind fudging the numbers. She also could not comment on whether the person responsible was asked to resign and whether there was a resignation letter.
President Gann has said the college will move forward next week with an independent review conducted by the law firm O’Melveny & Myers and led by the Board of Trustees. Gann emphasized that no one from within the college can be responsible for leading the independent review as it would be an obvious conflict of interest.
Though she can’t predict when the review will be completed, Gann said she hoped it would be finished quickly. The findings of the independent review will only be made public if the Board of Trustees chooses to do so. Although the college has no reason to believe that other data has been falsely reported, the independent investigation will look at data before 2005.
Gann believes the college acted quickly and “used good governance” to address the root of the problem and manage the situation. Gann asserts that the College has “been very prompt, open, and honest” in its handling of the issue.
While some students have expressed frustration with the minimal communication from Gann and the college administration, Gann emphasized that her plan of action thus far has prioritized (1) obtaining the right information and (2) getting the correct information out to the appropriate agencies. Now, she said, the college is in the midst of her third objective—to repair the trust of the community—and will continue to reach out and inform students as best it can.
Gann thought going to student publications such as the Forum and the Claremont Port Side was more effective than immediately holding a town hall-style meeting. However, Gann has been present in college dealings over the past week. She attended a senior class reception on Tuesday evening, appearing at a Board of Trustees meeting breakfast with students, and may appear alongside Vice President of Public Affairs Max Benavidez on Monday evening at the ASCMC Senate meeting.
President Gann could not speculate on how this incident will impact CMC’s rankings in the future. On NPR’s All Things Considered, Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News and World Report, indicated that the dip in scores is likely to have only a small effect on the ranking. “It’s certainly not going to drop the school to twentieth place,” said Morse, “but I guess there’s some chance that it could drop out of the top ten.”
President Gann added that she does not see any data that suggests rankings drive a student’s decision to go to a college. “The primary reason that students come here is the high quality education and the academic program is a good fit for them,” said Gann. She continues, “rankings and guides are only part of the process.”
Many believe that rankings played a role in causing this incident. Gann stated that the Office of Admission has no explicit goals for SAT scores. “Our aspiration is to have a talented student body,” said Gann, “and SAT scores are a part of that.”
In 2002, the Board of Trustees adopted a general policy statement to guide the admissions office on shaping incoming classes. Some considerations include leadership, diversity, and support for co-curricular programs. According to Gann, one change in this policy since the beginning of her presidency was to increase the number of international students.
Despite the recent SAT score incident, President Gann believes that Claremont McKenna remains a strong institution. “We have wonderful students, wonderful faculty, and I’m very proud of this college,” she said.
Gann hopes that this unfortunate incident will also become a learning experience for students. She explained that the past week has been an excellent lesson in “crisis leadership.” Gann stated that, “lapses in leadership are where you learn the most.”
Updates: February 2, 2012 at 3:14pm
Since the incident first came to light, the college has taken a number of steps to ensure that this will never happen again. Before any data is released from the Admissions office, two Vice Presidents in different areas of the college, that have no authority in the Office of Admission, must sign off on the data. President Gann believes this method should be extended for all data reporting at the college. Vice President for Administration and Planning, General Counsel, and Secretary of the College, Matthew Bibbens, and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty, Gregory Hess, signed off on the corrected SAT score data before it was released yesterday. President Gann also signed off on the SAT data.
Editor’s note. This article was updated on February 2 at 2:37pm. The original article stated that a senior administrator had “falsified reporting” of SAT data since 2005. The updated article clarifies and states the administrator confessed to “falsely reporting” the data.