UC Davis Graduate School of Management today (Jan. 23) revealed that it is conducting an investigation to determine whether a newly hired admissions official played any role in falsifying data reported by Tulane University to U.S. News for the magazine’s ranking of the best MBA programs.
Tulane’s Freeman School of Business admitted last week that it falsely inflated average GMAT scores by an astounding 35 points for five consecutive years from 2007 to 2011. The school also conceded that it had falsely increased the number of completed applications it received by an average of 116 applications over the same time period.
The false reports went to U.S. News & World Report so that Freeman would be ranked more highly by the magazine’s annual lists of the best full-time MBA programs in the U.S. The disclosures were made as a result of an investigation by the law firm of Jones Day, which had been called in last month to do the probe by Tulane University’s Office of General Counsel.
PoetsandQuants disclosed in its reporting of the incident (“Who Cooked the Books At Tulane?“) that the school’s director of admissions for the five-year period for which false data was reported had been Bill Sandefer, who left the school in 2012 to become the senior director of graduate admissions at UC-Davis’ Graduate School of Management. Sandefer served as director of admissions at the Freeman School for 15 years before joining UC-Davis last summer.
In a statement, UC Davis GSM Dean Steven Currall said he and his staff “had no knowledge of the allegations” when Sandefer was hired by the GSM in June 2012. “This individual had no role in collecting, reviewing or submitting 2012 UC Davis MBA student data to U.S. News. Data submitted by the GSM was correct.
ADMISSIONS OFFICIAL PLACED ON ‘PAID INVESTIGATORY LEAVE’
“In the interest of fairness and transparency, I have directed an immediate investigation to determine if there is any basis in fact for the allegations that the former Tulane employee engaged in any inappropriate activity while at Tulane. To minimize the impact and stress on our employee, he has been placed on paid investigatory leave, effective last Friday, pending results of our investigation.”
The impact of the Freeman fraud is not yet clear. But from 2010 to 2012, Tulane’s Freeman School increased its ranking by 10 full places to 43rd last year from 53rd in 2010. Among other things, the school’s current position in U.S. News’ ranking was based on an apparently inflated average GMAT of its enrolled MBA class of 670 and a lower-than-actual acceptance rate of 56.7% Average GMAT scores loom large in the U.S. News’ methodology for calculating its MBA rankings, with a total weight of 16.25%. A school’s acceptance rate, which would be lower based on an inflated number of total applications, receives less weight, only 1.25%.
Dean Currall said “the GSM takes very seriously the compilation, integrity and security of student data reported to U.S. News and other rankings media. For example, we have, and have had, rigorous internal controls and checks in place to insure our data integrity. Data on our students are collected and compiled in a secure database and shared with rankings media by the GSM admissions operations manager, with oversight by Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, James Stevens, who has read-only rights to review and check the data, but not change it. Our operations manager has direct line access and reporting to me regarding the student data and its integrity.”
Average and median GMAT scores are among the most important criteria tracked by an admissions office because they represent the single best data point to determine the quality of an enrolled class. Unlike grade point averages which can differ significantly in some countries, GMAT scores are comparable across the world. So it is highly unlikely that a person holding the position of admissions director would not be aware of fraudulent reporting.
GMAT and other admissions data are usually handed over to a communications official at a school who would then turn them into U.S. News & World Report. Even if the numbers were not inflated in the admissions office, it would be unusual for the director of admissions to not notice the discrepancy once they were published by U.S. News–especially over five consecutive years. A 35-point difference, moreover, would have brought the school’s reported GMAT score down to 635 from 670 last year, a fairly significant change. ‘
‘YOU EITHER DON’T KNOW AND SHOULD OR THERE IS SOMETHING FUNNY GOING ON’
“You either don’t know and should, or you know and there is something funny going on,” said an admissions director of another top business school when asked for comment on the situation. The fraud was discovered shortly after Sandefer left Freeman in the fall of 2012, as the school prepared to submit data to external audiences relating to its full-time 2012 MBA program. “Discrepancies were found between accurate data being reported for the current year and data reported for the previous year,” the school said in the statement. As the school’s standards and admission criteria had not changed, Dean Ira Solomon raised a concern with the Office of the Provost.”
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