Princeton removes admissions officer, assigns him to new post

Princeton University will replace its director of admissions and move him to another administrative position in the wake of an April incident in which admissions officials gained unauthorized access to student files on a Yale admissions Web site.

Princeton President Shirley Tilghman announced the university’s plans today following the conclusion of an independent investigation commissioned by Princeton after the charges came to light last month.

Stephen LeMenager, the director of admissions, will work in Princeton’s Office of Communications until the university can find another administrative position for him, Tilghman said.

Tilghman said other members of the admissions office would be disciplined for what she called “violations of basic ethical principles.”

Tilghman’s announcements marked the first major fallout for the university in a case that gained national attention and led to speculation about whether competition over applicants at top universities had reached unacceptable levels.

Yale officials filed a complaint with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in July. Lisa Bull, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Connecticut, declined to comment because the case is pending.

Yale President Richard Levin commended Tilghman on how she handled the matter.

“I am impressed by the thoroughness of Princeton’s internal investigation and confident that all concerned now recognize the importance of protecting the privacy of college applicants,” Levin said.

Yale filed the charges in July after LeMenager told the News that he and other members of his staff used students’ birth dates and social security numbers taken from students’ applications to enter the Web site.

The Yale admissions Web site, launched in December, allowed students to view their admissions decisions using their names, social security numbers and birth dates as passwords. Students were also able to provide information about themselves the university through the Web site, and create a personal profile the admissions office could use to tailor recruitment strategies.

Yale admissions officials were alerted to Princeton’s actions at an Ivy League Dean’s conference in June, when Princeton admissions officers informally mentioned they had entered the Web site. Yale subsequently commissioned an investigation, which found the Web site had been accessed 18 times from computers at Princeton, involving the files of 11 students.

Further investigation determined one of the log-ins had come from an applicant, who had viewed the Web site from a library computer while visiting Princeton. Three other log-ins came from two different Princeton students who were checking on their siblings’ admissions decisions.

Princeton commissioned an investigation by William Maderer, a former federal prosecutor, after the charges came to light in July. Maderer’s report, which Tilghman summarized in her remarks Tuesday, concluded that LeMenager and his colleagues had acted out of curiosity in checking the applicant’s files.

After finding he could log-on without any additional passwords, LeMenager notified Dean of Admission Fred Hargadon and other admissions staff members. LeMenager then demonstrated by accessing two other student files, Tilghman said.

Later that afternoon, staff members logged on to student files eight more times from two different computers, in some cases to demonstrate the site and in other cases to determine the admissions status of specific applicants, Tilghman said.

LeMenager told the News in July that his actions stemmed from innocent curiousity.

Tilghman also announced Princeton would assess its policies on privacy and data security. Dean of Admissions Fred Hargadon issued an apology for the incident and said he planned to review guidelines for handling confidential information submitted by applicants.

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