Yale boosts efforts to eliminate applicant fraud
By Sangeetha Ramaswamy
Two high-profile cases involving students accused of cheating their way into
Yale have prompted admissions officers all over the University to step up their
efforts to crack down on fraudulent applicants.
The initiative comes in the wake of two students who successfully cheated
their way into Yale. Lon "L.T." Grammer, expelled in 1995 for forging his
transfer application from a California community college, pled guilty to
larceny last month. Tonica Jenkins has been charged with forging official
documentation to gain acceptance to the Graduate School.
"This is an issue that any admissions officer around the country will admit is
their biggest fear," B. Jay Cooper, director of the Office of Public Affairs,
said. Accordingly, Richard Shaw, director of undergraduate admissions, said the
Grammer case has prompted admissions officials to look more closely at
transcripts and recommendations. "[Admissions officers] are [now] more vigilant
in sorting out inconsistencies in credentials sent," he said. While Yale will
continue to welcome all applications, Shaw said admissions officers will take a
second look at applications from schools that do not usually send many students
Cooper said all Yale admissions offices routinely verify the authenticity of
transcripts and recommendations. Shaw described his staff as "very thorough on
the front end. If something looks out of sync [on the transcripts or
recommendations], such as grades crossed out, we call the schools." Despite
these precautions, however, "It's not inconceivable that somebody with access
to technology could create a masterful forgery at any level and in any
country," Shaw said.
Shaw acknowledged that "[our admissions process] is not completely foolproof.
That's not feasible." Since undergraduate admissions officers must handle over
13,000 applications each year, they cannot check the authenticity of all
documents. He said admissions officers must assume that "99.99 percent of all
applicants are applying honestly."
Graduate school officials intend to work even harder to detect fraud early.
Alice Oliver, director of finance and administration at the Graduate School,
said the school has spent a lot of time discussing the Jenkins case. As a
result, Oliver reported, "We will do extremely careful spot-checks, literally
picking up applications randomly and verifying the documentation at their
According to Oliver, people involved in all stages of the admissions process
have been advised to "be on the alert to any credentials that look
`iffy.'" Specifically, Oliver explained that "Faculty members and admissions
officers should look twice at any straight-A transcripts and recommendations
that appear to be typed from the same typewriter. Mailroom clerks are to look
for envelopes that look opened and resealed."
In addition, graduate school officials will soon meet to discuss other ways to
improve the process. "Since we are once again entering the admissions season,
we will be discussing the scrutiny of applications with the directors of
graduate studies in all departments during the next few weeks," Graduate School
Dean Thomas Appelquist said.
Admissions directors at Yale's professional schools said they are not aware of
applicants who have been admitted under false pretenses, but that applicants
have tried to cheat their way in. Lynne Wootton, director of admissions at the
Medical School, reported that she "personally verifies the authenticity of
documents submitted by matriculated students." She explained that forged
documents are often easy to spot.
"I start getting suspicious when I see documents that don't carry the official
seal. I also look at the quality of the paper, color, raised seals, and the
registrar's signature," Wootton said. "If I were concerned, I would call the
school directly and request an official transcript in a sealed envelope."
Jean Webb, director of admissions at the Law School, said her staff has, in
the past, received forged documents. "There was a recent case where we
discovered fraudulent letters of recommendation," she said. Law School
admissions officers follow similar procedures to discover fraud. "In general,
we rely on standard criteria--the right kind of paper, signatures, no signs of
being tampered with. But experts can have ways around that," she said.
Despite the feeding frenzy that follwed the Jenkins and Grammer cases, Richard
Silverman, executive director of admissions at the School of Management,
contends that students do not get accepted under false pretenses as often as
the media has suggested. "There have been these sort of exaggerated stories in
the press, but they happen so rarely that it would be a mistake to imply that
somebody really slipped up on the admissions side," he said. "Most schools have
extremely thorough admissions processes."
Cooper pointed out that systems exist to allow officials to uncover fraud
before and after matriculation. "At both graduate and undergraduate admissions
offices, procedures are always under review. Even after you've been admitted,
teachers will be monitoring your grades," he said.
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