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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 to Yale.

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 sources."

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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