Former dean tweaks New Jersey students’ grades

AMDEN, N.J. – The former dean of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s Camden campus fixed grades to allow students who could have been kicked out of medical school to eventually become doctors, a federal monitor said Monday.

The monitor, former federal judge Herbert J. Stern, did not say what would have motivated Paul Mehne to pass unqualified students.

“There was no indication that there was any “quid pro quo or that any of the students were even aware of what he was doing,” said John Inglesino, an attorney at Stern’s law firm. “Our job was to report the facts … whatever his motivation was.”

UMDNJ hasn’t taken any action against graduates who benefited from grade changes. But the monitor said one current student, whom Mehne allowed to progress through the program despite failing a required test, had been placed on “academic warning” for the rest of her medical education.

Mehne, who headed the UMDNJ/Robert Wood Johnson Medical School program at Cooper University Hospital, was placed on paid administrative leave on June 9, amid the monitor’s investigation and just weeks before his planned retirement.

The program in Camden trains third- and fourth-year medical students as they transition from classroom to clinical training. Mehne is accused of passing some students who did not meet minimum standards and allowing them to retake tests in violation of school policy.

Mehne lives in Havertown, Pa., and is former associate dean at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

In an interview with the monitor’s staff, he denied instructing any faculty member to violate grading policy. But, the monitor said “documentary evidence confirms the allegations against Mehne.”

“Any improprieties could undermine confidence in the medical profession and could cause untold damage to the lives of innocent individuals at the hands of undertrained or unprepared medical professionals,” Stern said in the report.

The report said UMDNJ “has begun to remediate this problem.”

“There can be no more fundamental breach of an educator’s responsibilities than the violation of conventional standards of academic integrity,” UMDNJ’s president, William F. Owen Jr., wrote Monday in an e-mail to his employees. “Therefore, I am sure you join with me in expressing outrage at the actions of Dr. Mehne.”

No one answered the door Monday afternoon at Mehne’s home, and his attorney did not return a phone call.

When Mehne became associate dean in 1995, he had grades reported directly to his office. Prior to that, grades were reported to the assistant registrar, Stern said.

Mehne told the monitor that he did this because students were required to complete a course evaluation before the grades were entered.

“This explanation does not seem credible,” the monitor wrote.

Failing UMDNJ students must appear before the Academic Standing Committee, and they must take remedial measures before they can continue their education.

During a six-year period reviewed by the monitor, 357 students appeared before the committee, but none from the Camden campus – a number Stern found “incomprehensible.”