Santa Clara University

Intrusion into SCU Student Grade Records

Can you explain how this was discovered?

A former undergraduate student noticed that one of her grades on a recent transcript was different than that printed on an older transcript. When the Santa Clara graduate reported this anomaly to the University, the Registrar's Office reviewed her records but could find no documentation to explain why the grade was changed.

What did the university do next?

The Registrar's Office immediately investigated all student records since 2000 to see if there were any other undocumented grade changes. We became alarmed when we discovered other cases where student grades had been altered without appropriate documentation. As soon as our internal investigation led us to believe that someone had gained unauthorized access into our computerized academic record system, we contacted law enforcement authorities.

What did they determine?

Santa Clara University is fully cooperating with the FBI in their ongoing investigation. At this point, all we can say is that between June 2010 and July 2011, someone gained unauthorized access into Santa Clara's computerized academic record system and altered the grades of several students.

How many grades were changed?

The preliminary evidence suggests that a handful of current undergraduate students and approximately sixty former undergraduate students may have been impacted by these undocumented grade changes. No courses taken prior to 2004 have had any grades compromised by this computer intrusion. The Registrar's Office is individually contacting each faculty member whose grades appear to be inappropriately altered to verify that the faculty member did not authorize any of the undocumented grade changes. In the coming days, the Registrar's Office will notify every student and former student who has an undocumented grade change and ask them if they have any information that might help explain the grade change. These steps are critical to verify that none of the undocumented grade changes have a valid explanation.

How did this happen?

The FBI is actively investigating how the perpetrator gained unauthorized access into Santa Clara's computerized academic record system and went about changing student grade data.


What happens next for the students and former students whose grades were changed?

We will individually reach out to the students whose grade records have been impacted by this incident and reassure them that the university will rectify any inaccuracies in their grade records and ensure the integrity of their transcripts. Between now and December 1, the University Registrar will individually contact impacted current students by certified mail using the address on record.

Also between now and December 1, the University Registrar will individually contact impacted former students by certified mail at the address which is currently listed in the alumni database. Alumni can confirm or update their contact information by going to the alumni database. Please note that no courses taken prior to 2004 were impacted by this computer intrusion.

Do you think they knew their grades were changed?

We do not know whether the impacted students and former students are aware that some of the grades on their transcripts have been inappropriately changed. We will be notifying them shortly.

What is the protocol at Santa Clara for handling grade tampering?

The University takes allegations of grade tampering very seriously and will pursue legal action if appropriate. In addition, the University has a Student Conduct Code that prohibits falsification or misuse of University records. If the evidence suggests that a current student violated the student conduct code, then the case will be referred to the University Judicial System. If the evidence suggests that a former student has been involved in grade tampering, then the Provost will convene a University hearing board, to adjudicate the case.

What steps are you taking to ensure this doesn't happen again?

We have taken several immediate steps to reduce any chance of a similar incident happening again, including instituting a system to check on a daily basis every grade change and to authenticate it manually. We have enlisted the assistance of outside experts to review our internal processes and data security measures so as to better protect against unauthorized access into our computer systems.

Can you explain how grades are recorded and changed?

Only instructors are allowed to determine the grades that their students receive in a course. If an instructor chooses to change a student's grade from what was originally assigned, the instructor must complete a printed form, gain approval from the department chair and associate dean, and submit the signed form to the Registrar. Only a few people in the Registrar's Office are authorized to enter a grade change into the computer system. Such an action automatically creates a computerized audit trail that records who made the change, when the change was made and the reason for the change. There appears to be no electronic transactional record or corresponding paperwork for any of the grade changes involved in this investigation.