This weekend we wrote about a recruitment letter sent by Rutgers – Camden School of Law's admissions dean, Camille Andrews. We alleged that the letter contained incomplete, deceptive, and false information, and that as a result Dean Andrews should resign from her post and the ABA should conduct an investigation and bring appropriate sanctions against the law school.
In an article published in Inside Higher Ed, Camden's Dean Rayman Solomon responded. Neither Dean Solomon nor Dean Andrews responded to us directly, and we have only the portions of Dean Solomon's statements published by Inside Higher Ed:
Dean Rayman Solomon is standing by Andrews. Solomon said the recruitment material was accurate but that he's "open to discussion" about the best way to reach prospective students going forward. The promotion in question targeted potential applicants who took the GMAT, not the LSAT, the typical law school admission test. The goal, Solomon said, was to reach a new audience and introduce the Rutgers-Camden program. Students could then go online to get more information.
"This was one letter saying are you interested, have you thought about it?" Solomon said. "This is not our entire marketing campaign. This is telling people that we have a program."
But were the numbers misleading?
"I don't know how to respond," Solomon said. "If you have a hundred people, would four of them be misled? Would one be misled? Would 98 be misled? [It was] a piece that was designed to get people to think about something they hadn't thought about. This wasn't the only information they could get about it."
We appear to agree with Dean Solomon on the purpose. The May 2012 letter was designed to get students to think about law school or a legal career who were not known to be interested in attending law school starting in August 2012. We bet we also agree on the following three points:
- Camden waived the application fee to reduce the application barrier
- Camden discussed employment outcomes to show its placement successes in a bad economy
- Camden discussed salary outcomes and salary potential to inform the cost-benefit analysis of the campaign targets
However, we clearly disagree about whether Camden's employment outcome claims adequately reflect reality and whether targeting people who had not yet expressed interest in law school was appropriate given the very short decision window and lack of knowledge about their professional goals.
Nevertheless, neither LST nor Camden knows the actual effect of the campaign on the letter recipients. Frankly it doesn't matter whether many people or zero people enroll. We care about how Camden conducts itself in the law school marketplace; Camden unfairly used employment statistics to augment its argument that the law school is a safe haven from a bad economy. In this regard Camden crossed the ethical (and likely legal) line from mere puffery to deceptive advertising. These facts are troubling irrespective of whether prospective students are sophisticated, unsophisticated, or indifferent.
The brunt of Dean Solomon's response is that this is but a single letter that isn't a big deal and shouldn't affect decision making. To that we ask, what could the employment statistics have been meant to do other than affect application and enrollment decisions? The letter was part of a recruitment campaign, not a teaser for a movie due out next summer. Camden should strive to have all of its communications with students be accurate and honest. Dean Solomon further states that the misinformation is okay because other information is out there. It would appear that he is saying "you should know not to take our statements at face value." That'd be a pitiful position for a law school dean to take.
It's not acceptable to provide prospective students with false and misleading information just because the truth is available somewhere else. Interpretation 509-4 to ABA Standard 509 clearly states that reporting consumer information accurately somewhere does not absolve a school's responsibility to present such information in a fair and accurate manner elsewhere.
Standard 509 requires a law school fairly and accurately to report basic consumer information whenever and wherever that information is reported or published. A law school's participation in the Council-designated publication referred to in Interpretation 509-2 and its provision of fair and accurate information for that book does not excuse a school from the obligation to report fairly and accurately all basic consumer information published in other places or for other purposes.
It's worthwhile to emphasize that Dean Solomon disputed our analysis and not our numbers. He also said he is open to discussion. So are we, and we've sent him the following email:
We would like to know what specifically in our analysis you believe is incorrect.
1. Does the category "JD Advantage" include only jobs in the legal field?
2. If #1 is no, did any Camden graduates have a "JD Advantage" job not in the legal field? If so, how many?
3. Do you think the advertised private practice starting salary of $74,000 represents the average of all 2011 graduates employed in private practice?
4. How many graduates reported earning salaries of at least $130,000?
5. Do you believe the answer to #4 can fairly be described as "many"?
6. Are statements about employed graduates meaningful without disclosing how many non-employed graduates there are?
Please respond via email. If you do not have adequate information to answer any of these questions, please say so. In addition to the email, we would be happy to schedule a time to talk about the data, our analysis, Camden's forthcoming remedial measures, and the internal policies Camden plans to adopt to prevent repeat violations of ABA Standard 509.
We reemphasize that the letter must stand on its own merits. This letter was intended to create a first impression with prospective students and paint in their minds a picture of financial security if they attend law school at Rutgers – Camden School of Law. Later discovering that the letter was deceptive does not erase the deception.
We will post a new story if/when Dean Solomon responds.