U-Va. law school mistakenly sends out e-mail with private student data (update)

Credit: Joel Hawksley/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
University of Virginia ( Joel Hawksley/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

(Update: Statement for University of Virginia)

A University of Virginia law school official mistakenly sent an e-mail to lots of people containing private information about all of its clerkship applicants, with very detailed data about each one, including grade-point average and where friends live.

The law school released a statement Thursday afternoon saying:

Yesterday, a UVA Law School administrator sent an email to approximately 160 law students that mistakenly attached a spreadsheet containing student information. The spreadsheet included grade point averages, class ranks and biographical information for 155 students who are applying for clerkships. It did not include social security numbers or financial information.

The dean and other Law School officials have apologized and reached out individually to all of the affected students. We are deeply distressed that this mistake occurred, and we are in the process of reviewing our data management procedures to build in more safeguards against unintentional disclosures.

The Above The Law Web site first reported it this way:

Yesterday Ruth Payne, UVA’s Director of Judicial Clerkships, sent an email to the school’s clerkship listserv with an attachment containing details about hiring information for the District of Maryland. Alas, there was nothing attached. She later realized her mistake and re-sent the email, writing, “Actually attached this time.” Unfortunately, “[a]ctually attached this time” was a spreadsheet entitled “2015 Applicants Workbook,” and it contained all the information under the sun about UVA’s would-be clerks.

Six minutes later, all of UVA’s clerkship applicants received a frantic email with a subject line of “PLEAE [sic] DELETE IMMEDIATELY.” The body of Payne’s email had only two words: “WRONG ATTACHMENT.”

The information released, according to Above The Law, ranged “from GPA, to class rank, to work experience, to recommenders, right down to where their girlfriends live.”

Not long after that, the applicants — numbering about 155 —  received an e-mail from  George S. Geis, vice dean of the law school that said:

 

Earlier this afternoon you received an email from Ruth Payne titled “re: D. MD. Clerkships,” purporting to include an attachment related to clerkship availability in Maryland. The attachment was unfortunately a different spreadsheet with confidential information regarding the clerkship process. 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. We ask that you please do not open this attachment and that you immediately delete this email if you have not done so already.

Ruth or I are available if you have any questions or concerns.

The University of Virginia Law School Web site has a post noting that the school, along with Harvard, Stanford and Yale, contributed the most clerks to the Supreme Court from 2005-2013.

Above the Law did look at the data — although didn’t publish any personal, identifiable information — and discovered that among the students applying for a clerkship, a 3.2 GPA would place a student in the bottom 25 percent of the class.

 Below is the information — minus names.

UVA Law Class of 2015 Clerkship Data

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | June 5