Think of it as an unintended ethics test for future lawyers.
The administrator at the University of Virginia’s School of Law who oversees the school’s judicial-clerkship program, Ruth Payne, accidentally sent the wrong document on Wednesday to an email list for students seeking clerkships. Instead of details about how to get hired in Maryland, she attached a spreadsheet with details about all 155 students currently seeking clerkships. The spreadsheet included each student’s grade-point average, class rank, political affiliation, and much more.
Six minutes later, Ms. Payne sent another email asking recipients to delete the previous message: “WRONG ATTACHMENT,” it said. But apparently not everyone complied—not too surprisingly, given that human beings are, you know, human. The law school doesn’t usually tell students their class rank, for starters. And the spreadsheet revealed such details as who had written recommendations for each student and where students’ significant others live.
To make matters worse, a website called Above the Law got its hands on the spreadsheet—it didn’t say how—and gleefully published an article about it on Thursday. The article included a list of GPAs, class ranks, and class-rank percentiles, but did not attach names or other identifying information to each statistic. Above the Law also used the information to calculate the GPA curve of the 155 students.
That led Above the Law to say, “‘Holy grade inflation, Batman!’ Sorry, but you’re basically failing out of school at UVA Law with a B average. It’s sick.” The site adds that, “with around a 3.2 GPA, you’ll be in the bottom 25 percent of the class.”
The law school’s vice dean, George S. Geis, sent the affected students an email saying, in part: “Ruth and I both deeply regret this situation and apologize to all of you. We take the safeguarding of your personal information very seriously and will conduct a full review of our communication practices and our management of confidential student information.”
The comments on the Above the Law article are worth scanning, by the way, if you’re interested in ethics—especially the exchange on “inadvertently received confidences.”