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Mercy College suing the University of Long Island for allegedly stealing its students

Admissions can be a dog-eat-dog world. Future students, after all, can enroll in a single institution.

But a lawsuit filed this month in the New York state court by Mercy College suggests a new level of competitiveness for students. If the allegations (at this time only allegations) are true, the claim may also raise ethical issues that go beyond those generally considered in admission circles.

The lawsuit alleges that a former dean of Mercy's business school, subsequently hired by Long Island University, used his access to confidential information about applicants admitted by Mercy to lure some of them to LIU. The lawsuit, highly unusual in the sense that it involves one university suing another, seeks damages from LIU and an order to stop using any information obtained by the former dean of Mercy. The lawsuit says that the damages must be at least $ 700,000, but that the extent of the damage has not yet been determined.

A spokesperson for LIU said by email that "although this case lacks merit, we will address the facts through the courts, not the media"

The lawsuit, obtained by Inside Higher Ed cites an electronic trail of evidence to reinforce its claims. The lawsuit also illustrates how Mercy (and comparable universities) develop strategies to recruit better students.

According to Mercy, the university has two main strategies for recruiting the best students for its undergraduate business program. The university, based on high school students' SAT scores and high school grades, invites some students to participate in a summer program, whose successful completion usually leads to an offer of admission, often accompanied by scholarships. . Other students are invited to participate in an honors program at the university.

Mercy maintains spreadsheets with information about the objectives for both programs, with data about the students, financial offers made, the status of admissions discussions, etc. The strategies described in the lawsuit are not exclusive to Mercy, but the scores of the precise tests and other academic qualifications used by Mercy would be. And having these strategies right is key for institutions like Mercy, which operate in a highly competitive environment: the state of New York has many public and private schools.

Edward Weis was until May 31 the dean of Mercy's business school, and Mercy says he had access to all the information in the spreadsheets, as well as communications between the university and potential students.

In June, Weis started as vice president of academic affairs at LIU.

Mercy says she found (with exact dates and times) that Weis, while still working at Mercy, e-mailed her non-college email address spreadsheets to students, along with exchanges of emails from Mercy officials with several possible students. including student ratings and private email addresses. In addition, email records show, says Mercy, that Weis sent information about the students that Mercy planned to invite to their summer program next year.

Then in June, the lawsuit says, another former Mercy official, who followed Weis to LIU two weeks after Weis left, asked two students who had agreed to enroll in Mercy to enroll in LIU.

The Mercy lawsuit says that, since May 1, it had 42 new students who had accepted offers to enroll in the business honors program. By July 20, nine of them had notified Mercy that they would be enrolled in LIU. Confidential information about all nine of them was in the material. Mercy says she tracked Weis' mailing of the university's accounts to her private accounts before she left the university.

The loss of a single student, taking into account tuition, fees, room and board, costs Mercy $ 32,252, the lawsuit says. The loss of these students was more damaging, says the lawsuit, because they had high SAT scores and stellar academic records, and many had already participated in the Mercy summer program.

Data from the College Navigator database of the US Department of Education. UU They show why admission is as competitive among non-elitist universities as Mercy and LIU.

At Mercy, 79 percent of those who applied for admission in the fall of 2017 entered, and 17 percent of those who entered enrolled.

On the main campus of LIU, 83 percent of applicants were admitted and 12 percent of those admitted were enrolled.

The lawsuit accuses Weis and LIU of obtaining confidential information to which they were not entitled and then using that information to engage in "unfair competition" with Mercy. The lawsuit says they acted with "deliberate, malicious and meaningless indifference" for the rights of Mercy.

Even leaving aside the accusations of inappropriate use of confidential information, the conduct alleged in the lawsuit would violate the Code of Ethics and Professional Practices of the National Association of University Admission Counseling.

That code says in part: "Universities will not recruit or offer enrollment incentives to students who are already enrolled, registered, have declared their intention or have submitted contractual deposits to other institutions, register to become final, and universities must respect that . "

Other parts of the code, while not referring to what Mercy alleges, emphasize that universities should take seriously the idea that the information they receive from applicants and admitted applicants should be protected.

"The university's admission and counseling community depends on trust, an important component in building that trust is respect for confidentiality," says the code.

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