Temple ousts business dean after report finds false data was submitted for years for online MBA rankings

Moshe Porat, dean of Temple's Fox School of Business at the 2012 Musser Excellence in Leadership Award dinner.

Moshe Porat, former dean of Temple's Fox School of Business at the 2012 Musser Excellence in Leadership Award dinner. (Ryan S. Brandenberg/WHYY, file)

Temple University ousted Moshe Porat, dean of its Fox School of Business after a report uncovered years of intentionally submitting inaccurate data to increase its standing in U.S. News & World Report rankings. The university initially asked him to step down Monday, but he refused. Temple says he no longer runs the school but at least for now holds onto a teaching appointment.

The scandal began in January when errors were first discovered, and the business school self-reported them to the organization. After the university learned of the misleading information, it hired the law firm Jones Day to conduct an investigation in January.

Since at least 2014, the university says the business school knowingly reported incorrect data about its Online MBA program.

That program was ranked number one for the last four years. That title was stripped in January, and the Online MBA program is now unranked.

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The report’s key findings include: the school misrepresented how many students took the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), inflated undergraduates grade point averages, underreported the number of admission offers to imply the program was more selective, padded student-faculty ratios, and provided false information about student debt levels.

It also found, in 2013, Porat disbanded procedures that were in place to verify information before it was submitted to outlets.

The school’s leadership created and promoted a culture focused on rankings that contributed to reporting bad information, the reported also pointed out.

John Byrne, who helped create the business school rankings while an editor at BusinessWeek 30 years ago, says schools are under tremendous pressure because rankings have assumed outsized importance.

“A good ranking gets you more applications,” he said. “Good rankings get you more enrolled students. A good ranking makes alumni happy, and therefore they contribute more money to the school. A good ranking also allows you to recruit better faculty than you might otherwise would have been able to do.”

Byrne crunched the numbers and says the program probably would have fallen outside of the top 25.

“When they started doctoring the numbers in 2013, they moved up to nine. And then in 2014, it was number one…for four consecutive years,” he said. “Before they started playing with the numbers they were at 28, and that’s probably where they should be.”

He says U.S. News shares some of the blame because they don’t conduct audits to assure data accuracy.

“For example, when the Financial Times does its MBA rankings, it does random audits of the data through an independent auditing firm,” he said. “U.S. News does not do that. Never has done that and really should start random auditing of school data, and they should do it through an accomplished and independent accounting firm.”

He says it’s the very least U.S. News can do given the importance of rankings and the moneymaker it is for organization.

The report also found that the school provided incorrect info for other programs as well.

U.S. News, in a letter to Temple president Richard Englert, is requesting Temple verify information submitted about its other university programs.

The Fox School of Business flourished during dean Moshe Porat’s 22-year tenure. All of that is now under a cloud.

Kevin Feeley, spokesman for Temple, says forcing Porat out wasn’t an easy decision.

“Moshe Porat was someone who spent several decades at Temple and built an outstanding business school. But it was a decision that had to be made and it was the right decision for the university,” he said.

An interim dean will be announced in the next several weeks and a national search conducted for a permanent replacement.

Rankings expert Byrne says he believes this is the biggest scandal yet of doctored rankings information.

“The biggest surprise is the extent of the fraud. The Jones Day investigation found that it was perpetrated over several years, that it involved multiple data points and occurred over multiple programs, not merely its online MBA programs,” he said.

Byrne is editor-in-chief and founder of Poets&Quants.com, a website that covers MBA programs and business school rankings.

“It’s a shame because the dean really did, in many ways, a very good job,” he said. “The school was really identified through him, and he was very strong willed administrator…He more than doubled the student enrollment substantially, increased faculty, raised hundreds of millions of dollars to find a new home for the school.”

Shortly after the rankings scandal first broke, a class action lawsuit was filed by Temple business student Kyle Smith claiming fraudulent practices.

Jason Brown is the attorney representing Smith in the case against Temple.

“If somebody shoots up in the rankings to number one there’s got to be some logic behind how you obtain such a stratospheric rise,” he said. “They had to know, or I think they willfully turned a blind eye to it. But in either event, it doesn’t change the fact that the university has to do what’s right for the students and compensate them for what they’ve done to them.”

The rankings are integral since students made decisions based on them, he noted.

Employers also use the rankings when deciding on job offers, Brown says, and these rankings have now altered some students’ lives.

He says more than 30 students have called his office since the report came out.

“We care about the students, and hopefully the university cares about the students,” Brown said. “They’re going to sit down and figure out how to get this done where people can walk away and feel somewhat good about what happened — even though there’s no way to feel good what’s happened because this is just an outright fraud.”

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