The FBI and an independent investigator hired by Princeton University
are probing into charges that Princeton admission officials gained
unauthorized access to Yales admission website on at least
14 occasions in April by using the personal information including
social security numbers of eight students who had applied
to both schools.
Associate Dean and Director of Admission Stephen LeMenager, who
admitted to Yales undergraduate newspaper that he and office
colleagues had accessed Yales admission website in order to
test its security, has been placed on paid administrative leave
pending the outcome of the universitys investigation, according
to university officials.
"It was really an innocent way for us to check out the security,"
LeMenager told the Yale Daily News in a story that appeared
on its website on July 25. "That was our main concern of having
an online notification system, that it would be susceptible to people
who had that information parents, guidance counselors, and
admissions officers at other schools."
LeMenager has been a university staff member since 1983, and President
Tilghman described him as a "long-time and respected member"
of the admission office staff. He is the second-highest ranking
administrator of the 30-member admission office. LeMenager did not
respond to a phone request for an interview. According to media
reports, he has retained one of New Jerseys top criminal defense
lawyers, Brian Neary, a Rutgers-Newark Law professor who has defended
rappers, professional athletes, and other high profile clients.
Neary did not return calls from PAW.
Another North Jersey attorney was selected to head the universitys
internal investigation. William Maderer, a partner in the Newark
law firm of Saiber, Schlesinger, Satz, & Goldstein, arrived
on campus July 26 to begin his probe. Princeton General Counsel
Peter McDonough picked Maderer because neither he nor his firm had
any prior ties to the university, said Princeton spokeswoman Marilyn
Yale officials learned of the breaches to its online admissions
notification system at a May meeting of Ivy League admissions officers,
where LeMenager spoke about accessing the Yale website. His comments
were reported to Yale officials, which led to an investigation,
said Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky.
After the internal investigation uncovered 18 hits to the Yale admission
site from Princeton University computers, Yale turned the information
over to federal and Connecticut law enforcement officials, who continue
to investigate. An FBI spokeswoman would not comment on its investigation.
Princeton administrators learned of the unauthorized access when
Yale President Richard Levin called President Tilghman on the evening
of July 24 to tell her of the breaches and that the Yale student
newspaper had broken the story and was to run it the following day.
Three of the hits that came from Princeton were eventually discovered
to be current university students checking on a siblings admission
status at Yale, and another was a prospective student visiting Princeton
who had applied to both schools, according to Marks.
In a letter sent to Princeton students, faculty, and staff on July
29, President Tilghman said the university was attempting to contact
the applicants whose information was used to apologize "for
this failure to properly respect their privacy."
"Basic ethical principles of privacy and confidentiality are
at stake here. We teach these principles and we hold our students,
faculty, and staff to them. Violations of these principles therefore
must not, and will not, be tolerated," wrote Tilghman. "I
deeply regret the enormous strain that these events have caused,
first and foremost, to the students whose rights were violated...We
will move quickly to bring the investigation to a just conclusion,
and we will then take appropriate actions to deal with infractions
that have occurred and to try to prevent any recurrence of similar
actions in the future."
The national and international media scrutiny the situation has
garnered intensified when the Washington Post reported on
July 27 that President George W. Bushs niece, Lauren Bush,
a senior in Houston, was among the students whose admissions information
was accessed on the Yale site.
The newspaper, citing a confidential Yale report, also reported
that Ara Parseghian, the grandson and namesake of the celebrated
Notre Dame football coach, was another applicant whose records were
viewed. According to the Post, admission office computers
were used to access Bushs file four times in an afternoon
and Parseghians was entered three times within a few hours.
Neither Princeton nor Yale officials would verify the newspapers
As the investigations continue, admission officers and legal experts
in the fields of privacy and the Internet have been sought out around
the country to comment on a unique, perhaps even a first of its
kind, situation that could land two of the countrys most prestigious
universities in courts of law. Whether they will be civil or criminal
courts depends on what the investigations uncover, according to
legal scholars quoted in the media. If federal laws were violated,
Princeton could lose some or all of the limited government funding
it receives, some said.
There is also the possibility that students could sue the schools,
said Jonathan Zittrian, the codirector at Harvard Law Schools
Berkman Center for Internet & Society. But he stressed that
he is "not ready to start a witch hunt" since all the
facts in the case have not been released.
"I would not want to rush to judgment. This is usually a thing
handled between institutions and a few heads roll. I dont
see Yale suing Princeton," said Zittrian, a Yale alumnus. "It
makes for a great story, though. It seems beyond belief that this
Leslie Reis, director of the John Marshall Law Schools Center
for Information Technology and Privacy Law in Chicago, was also
surprised when she learned of the situation.
"At a time when there is a heightened awareness of the privacy
implications in the use of student records post-9/11, youd
think that it would be at the forefront of the mind of a school
administrator at a prestigious university," said Reis.
Barmak Nassirian, an official with the 9,000-member American Association
of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, questioned whether
a similar situation between two less prestigious universities would
have captured as much media attention. He also said that if it were
two lesser schools, which might be dealing with dwindling enrollment
and weak recruitment, he would have been more inclined to suspect
"To say that this is a mark of competition run amok is silly
in its face," said Nassirian, who also disagreed with the mainstream
medias describing the incident as hacking. "This is not
a symptom of corruption or malfeasance. Its faulty judgment.
People do make faulty judgments. Sometimes your hands move faster
than your mind."