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University of Virginia Accidentally Discloses GPAs and Class Ranks

 

A former boss once told me, “Jeff, there are mistakes and then there are screw ups.” Actually, he used a saltier term than “screw ups,” which made his point even more clear: There are lapses than can quickly be fixed with an apology or training. But some gaffes will absorb all of your time, resources, and goodwill. In the end, it’ll never be as good as new.

“Screw up” is a polite label for what happened this week at the University of Virginia’s School of Law. In a disclosure that’d make WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange blush, an email was mistakenly sent to 155 law students that included private student data, including taboo class ranks and grade point averages.

That’s right: The school tossed red meat into a pen full of hungry, hyper-competitive overachievers battling to land coveted clerkships. That shouldn’t cause any bad blood among the Type A set, right?

The school is already in damage control mode. But it’s probably too late, as the news has already jumped from Above the Law, which broke the story, to mainstream outlets like the Washington Post.

So what happened? As usual, the biggest disasters stem from the best-intentioned mistakes. Ever send an email and forget to include an attachment? That’s what happened to Ruth Payne, the university’s Director of Judicial Clerkships, who’d intended to post hiring information on the university’s clerkship ListServ. After noticing the missing attachment, she sent out a follow up, only this one contained a spreadsheet with the most intimate details of the school’s clerkship candidates. How detailed? Along with GPAs and class ranks, Above the Report reports that the spreadsheet included potential clerks’ “undergraduate schools, where they worked their 1L and 2L summers, where they’re from, and even their political affiliations” (not to mention their “recommenders, right down to where their girlfriends live.”).

To make it worse, the University of Virginia’s School of Law “does not use or disclose class rank except for limited purposes, such as determination of specific academic awards” according to its academic policy. So make no mistake: Students are scrutinizing this list. And you can almost hear the same question roaring across Charlottesville: “How is this clown ranked higher than I am?”

Somewhere in a Siberian gulag , Edward Snowden is cracking a smile.

Here’s the best part: This email lays out which grades the best (and worst) students receive. So where would a 3.0 GPA – a respectable B average – place you on the school’s rankings? Try 332nd place, near the absolute bottom of the class. And what does it take to rank first? That’s a 4.026. In fact, you’d need to maintain a 3.595 to rank in the top 25% of the class (or a 3.405 to make it into the top 50%).

With a margin that thin, no wonder law students can be so competitive. In the words of Laurence Peter, “Competition in academia is so vicious because the stakes are so small.”

In the meantime, the administration has issued the usual statement. In an email to affected students, Vice Dean George S. Geis shared his deep regret and apologies, adding that the school “take(s) safeguarding of your personal information very seriously and will conduct a full review of our communication practices and our management of confidential student information.” In addition, he asked students to immediately delete the email without opening the attachment.

As you can imagine, only the student with the 4.026 GPA will follow that advice. With three months of summer remaining, the hubbub should die down by fall. In the meantime, expect all UVA spreadsheets to be password protected going forward.

To check out the GPAs and class ranks of the potential clerks (minus names), click on this link.

Source: Above the Law