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USC won't punish new law school dean who mass emailed private bar exam grades

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COLUMBIA — The University of South Carolina will not punish its new law school dean who emailed private bar exam grades to all students, faculty and staff last week.

William Hubbard, a longtime USC trustee and legal leader in the state who became the school's law school chief in August, said he did not realize the confidential scores were attached to an email he received from the S.C. Office of Bar Admissions. He shared the email with 760 recipients when he received word Friday that close to 83 percent of USC graduates passed the exam from July — the highest in a number of years.

"I've never been more sorry for anything in my life," he told The Post and Courier. "This is very painful. I'd give anything to take it back."

Hubbard's error was first reported by The State newspaper.

Hubbard said he first sent apologies to each of the alumni who did not pass the exam and were outed in the email.

The S.C. courts release the names of those who passed the exam and release five-digit identification numbers of those was failed the test. The courts do not share exam scores publicly but give those results to the schools. USC had 166 graduates take the exam in July; 29 did not pass.

Hubbard also sent emails to students who passed the exam apologizing for the breach. He offered to meet with any alumni who took the exam. 

"They've been overwhelmingly forgiving and gracious and written back with words of great grace," he said.

Hubbard said he realized his mistake minutes after sending the email and had the message recalled. Still, the emails reached an unknown number of students, faculty and staff. The law school has more than 600 students.

William Hubbard

William Hubbard. Provided

"While I made many mistakes in my life, I've never made a mistake like this," he said. 

USC administrators will not sanction Hubbard for the information breach. He made an "honest mistake," acknowledged the error quickly and is installing safeguards, school spokesman Jeff Stensland said. Hubbard said the administration has been "incredibly supportive and encouraging."

Moving forward, Hubbard said the law school will quarantine emails with sensitive or confidential information that can be accessed only with a password. USC also is offering a preparation course for alumni who failed the bar exam to prepare them for the next one in February. 

Charleston School of Law Graduation (copy) (copy)

William Hubbard gives the commencement address to the 2014 graduates of the Charleston School of Law at McAlister Field House. He became the University of South Carolina law school dean this year. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

"You know there's a lot for me to learn here, and I'm learning," he said. "I'm here to make the school better. And this just causes me to redouble my commitment to do everything I can to provide the best experience possible for these students."

Hubbard took over a law school that is working to improve its rankings, which remain low nationally even after recent construction of a new $80 million building to better compete with top-tier schools and draw more higher performing students and faculty. USC sits at 96th among law schools in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings, down five spots from the previous year.

Hubbard graduated from USC law school in 1977 before joining the state's largest law firm, Nelson Mullins. He became a prominent lawyer in South Carolina and nationwide. He was elected president of the American Bar Association from 2014-15.

Hubbard joined the USC board in 1986 and was the second longest-serving trustee when he stepped down to become the law school dean. His name was floated as acting university president in the spring of 2019 when trustees could not make a final decision on a new leader.

The announcement that Hubbard was a finalist to become law school dean raised concerns about possible conflicts of interest because of his influence at the university. He was chosen from among 18 candidates, including two USC law professors and another from Michigan State who were the other finalists to run the state’s only public college law school.

Follow Andy Shain on Facebook (andyshain12) and Twitter (@andyshain)

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