After finding that the Fox School of Business knowingly provided false information to U.S. News over the past several years to achieve its No. 1 ranking for its online MBA program, Temple University today (July 9) asked Fox Dean M. Moshe Porat to resign his position. When he refused to step down, Porat was fired.
The decision to toss the dean of 22 years out of the school was made after a highly damaging independent review by the law firm of Jones Day which found numerous examples of misreported data, if not outright fraud, along with evidence of a cover-up.
U.S. News tossed Temple’s No. 1 ranked online MBA program off its ranking in January after discovering that the school misreported critical data on its program. Temple had reported that all 255 of the program’s latest incoming class submitted GMAT scores to get into the program. In fact, the school acknowledged that only 50 students, or 19.6%, submitted GMAT scores. As a result, Temple’s online MBA program, ranked first in the nation by U.S. News for four consecutive years, was moved to unranked status.
In the immediate aftermath of that embarrassment, the university hired Jones Day to conduct an investigation. In a statement issued today, Temple noted that the review is now complete and sacked an academic who had been dean of its business school since 1996. Porat joined Temple as a teaching and research assistant in 1979, for many years served as a professor of risk management until working his way up to the deanship, a job that pays more than half a million dollars a year. Now the 71-year-old administrator, the second longest-serving dean in the school’s history, is gone.
“It is my duty to report that the Fox School, under the leadership of Dean Moshe Porat, knowingly provided false information to at least one rankings organization about the Online MBA,” wrote Temple President Richard M. Englert. “In addition to the misreporting of the number of students who took the GMAT from 2015 to 2018, the average undergraduate GPA was overstated, and there were inaccuracies in the number of offers of admission as well as in the degree of student indebtedness.”
‘FOX HAD IN PLACE A CONCERTED, RANKINGS-FOCUSED STRATEGY’
Jones Day said its investigation revealed that, over the past several years, “Fox provided U.S. News with inaccurate information across multiple data metrics that are part of the publication’s OMBA rankings methodology. And while Jones Day focused on information that Fox provided to U.S. News relating to the school’s OMBA program, the investigation revealed that Fox provided U.S. News with erroneous information relating to other programs as well. On certain occasions, Fox’s reporting of inaccurate information to U.S. News was done knowingly and intentionally for the purpose of improving or maintaining Fox’s standing in the relevant U.S. News rankings.”
The firm’s investigators discovered that Dean Porat and other Fox personnel made clear that improving or maintaining Fox’s position in rankings was a key priority. “Fox had in place a concerted, rankings-focused strategy including detailed analyses of U.S. News’s rankings methodology and strategies tied to specific U.S. News data metrics, which strategy was promoted internally by the Dean and other Fox personnel,” the investigation found. “The environment fostered by the school’s emphasis on rankings contributed to the reporting of inaccurate information to U.S. News. Moreover, the Dean’s focus on rankings, coupled with his personal management style, caused Fox personnel who interacted with the Dean on ranking-related matters to feel pressure to perform in this regard.”
FIVE KEY FINDINGS BY JONES DAY IN ITS INVESTIGATION
The report by the law firm is damning in every way. Jones Day identifed five key findings:
1. In each year since at least 2014, Fox reported inaccurate information to U.S. News with respect to one or more data metrics, including: (a) the number of entrants who provided GMAT scores, (b) the mean undergraduate GPA of entrants, (c) the number of offers of admission extended to applicants, and (d) student-borrower indebtedness. In addition, Fox personnel adopted questionable interpretations of survey questions.
2. In various respects, Fox leadership and other employees bore responsibility for creating or promoting conditions that contributed to the reporting of inaccurate information to U.S. News and/or for the misreporting itself. Pressure to improve and maintain rankings contributed to the reporting of inaccurate information.
3. Following a change in procedure initiated by the Dean in approximately mid-2013, Fox did not establish adequate checks and balances in the process for compiling, verifying, and submitting information to U.S. News.
4. The employee principally responsible for preparing and submitting Fox’s responses to ranking surveys knowingly and intentionally misreported certain information to U.S. News and failed to correct inaccuracies with respect to other information. The investigative record is inconclusive as to whether this employee, in knowingly and intentionally misreporting information, was acting at the specific direction of any other Fox personnel.
5. There were multiple opportunities for other Fox personnel to observe and/or correct inaccuracies in information to be or that had been provided to U.S. News, but these inaccuracies were not corrected either before or after submission.
EXPLOSIVE FINDINGS PULL BACK THE CURTAIN ON THE PRESSURE RANKINGS PLACE ON DEANS
The findings pull back the curtain on the pressure that rankings place on school administrators and the temptation to cut corners to place higher on such lists. Jones Day found, for example, that beginning with Fox’s submission for U.S. News’s 2015 online MBA rankings,” the employee principally responsible for rankings surveys (i) knowingly misreported that all new program entrants had provided GMAT scores to Fox, and (ii) allegedly did so at the Dean’s direction in the presence of another employee. The Dean and the other employee deny that such direction was given.
“In addition, beginning at least as early as Fox’s survey responses submitted in 2013 for U.S. News’s 2014 Best Graduate Schools of Business rankings, the employee principally responsible for rankings surveys used various methods to inflate GPA scores of certain entrants, including increasing GPAs listed as a 1/100th value to the next highest 1/10th value (e.g., increasing 3.22 to 3.30), and then reporting the mean—or in some cases, the median—derived from these inflated values to U.S. News as part of Fox’s survey response. (The relevant U.S. News survey questions asked for the mean, rather than the median, GPA values.) Similar methods were also used to increase the mean undergraduate GPA reported to U.S. News for the 2015-2018 OMBA rankings.
“Other inaccurate information that Fox reported to U.S. News with respect to the school’s OMBA program included the number of offers of admission extended to applicants and information related to student indebtedness. For at least the 2017-2018 OMBA rankings, Fox underreported the number of offers of admission such that the reported figure was only slightly higher than the number of new entrants to the program. This resulted in inflated selectivity and matriculation rates. For U.S. News’s 2016-2018 OMBA rankings, Fox reported the average debt among all graduates, rather than only among those graduates with debt as requested by the survey question, resulting in a lower average debt figure. The investigative record is inconclusive with respect to whether this misreporting was intentional, or was instead the result of error, incompetence, or confusion about the appropriate source of data on the part of one or more Fox employees who assisted in compiling and considering the information prior to its submission to U.S. News.
FUDGING ANSWERS BY MAKING ‘QUESTIONABLE INTERPRETATIONS OF SURVEY QUESTIONS’
Fox also fudged answers to questions from U.S. News by adopting what Jones Day termed “questionable interpretations of survey questions. “As part of its Online MBA survey, U.S. News asks for the number of new entrants who provided GRE scores and the mean quantitative, verbal, and analytical writing scores (components of the GRE) among those entrants,” according to the Jones Day report. “When preparing survey responses on this metric, the employee principally responsible for rankings surveys consistently converted GRE scores to GMAT scores for purposes of reporting the total number of GMAT test takers, and then reported that zero entrants had provided GRE scores. As a consequence, these Fox survey responses indicated no GRE takers and no GRE scores.
“With respect to class size, U.S. News asks for the average class size of courses that are part of the OMBA program. For at least the 2016 through 2018 U.S. News rankings, Fox reported the average class size on the basis of a student-to-faculty ratio, dividing the number of students in a class by the total number of instructors and “academic coaches” assigned to the class. With respect to technical staff, U.S. News’s OMBA survey asks for (a) the number of fulltime and part-time technical staff the school employed to offer technical assistance to OMBA faculty members, and (b) the number of faculty members at the institution those technical staff are employed to assist. For at least the 2016 through 2018 rankings, Fox likely underreported the number of faculty at the institution that the full-time technical staff support, resulting in an inflated ratio of full-time technology support personnel to supported faculty members.”
EVIDENCE OF A COVER-UP
Temple Fox School of Business Dean M. Moshe Porat
The law firm also found evidence of a cover-up, noting that inaccurate data were explicitly identified by the employee principally responsible for rankings surveys or by Fox personnel reviewing the draft responses, but were not corrected prior to submission. “For example, during September 2017, Fox personnel raised concerns about the accuracy of the draft survey responses for the 2018 OMBA rankings with the employee principally responsible for rankings surveys, the supervisor of this employee, and others at Fox<” according to the report. “Despite these communications, the previously flagged inaccuracies were not corrected prior to the submission of the survey responses.”
Jones Day also noted that U.S. News had reached out to Fox on at least two occasions with questions relating to certain data that Fox had included in a survey response. “Most notably, in November 2016, U.S. News emailed the employee principally responsible for rankings surveys and others regarding Fox’s survey response (for the then-yet-to-be-published 2017 OMBA rankings) that all 198 of the program’s new entrants had provided GMAT scores as part of their applications,” according to the investigation. “In its inquiry, U.S. News noted that Fox’s website indicated that it granted waivers of the GMAT requirement and questioned the accuracy of the reported GMAT information. The employee responded to this email without substantively addressing the accuracy of this GMAT information, and the inaccurate information was never corrected.”
TEMPLE PRESIDENT CITES AN ‘UNDUE FOCUS ON RANKINGS’
The employee who was in charge of gathering and reporting the data was not identified. A spokesperson for Temple declined to say whether any other staffers were either reprimanded or ousted. “We will take all appropriate steps,” said Ray Betzner, associate vice president for communications at Temple. “However, out of respect for the privacy of our employees, we will not discuss specific employment actions.”
Regardless, Englert laid the entire blame on Dean Porat and the culture he created. “It was the dean’s initiative to disband a longstanding committee charged with ensuring the accuracy of rankings data,” added Englert. “This absence of checks and balances, together with an undue focus on rankings, enabled such misreporting. While we are committed to determining the nature and extent of possible incorrect data reporting regarding other academic programs at Fox, one thing is clear: This is contrary to the fundamental value of integrity that is at the heart of our academic mission.”
Englert said he and Provost JoAnne A. Epps asked Dean Porat to step down effective immediately as dean. “An interim dean will be identified, and we will begin a national search for a permanent dean as soon as possible,” he said. “Temple’s values and culture have guided us successfully since 1884. They are guiding me now in today’s decision. While I am deeply saddened by these developments, I am confident we are taking the right steps to address this issue. Our message here is simple: What happened at the Fox School cannot be allowed to happen again at Temple.”
The school said that Provost Epps will share additional information on a series of measures, including a new university-wide policy regarding rankings, more robust checks and balances for rankings data collection and reporting, and new data analytics staff. We are also sharing information with our various accrediting bodies, as well as the U.S. Department of Education.