A Different View Of A Rankings Scandal

View at dusk of Tulane University Freeman School of Business. Glass walls reveal lights shining through from inside the building.

Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business

The former admissions director linked to a rankings scandal at Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business says the school invented the controversy so that it could more easily pursue a sweeping agenda for change.

Bill Sandefer, 52, resigned from Freeman in 2012, just before controversy erupted over the school’s MBA student data provided to U.S. News & World Report for its highly influential business school rankings.

Purported false data concerning Freeman’s admissions selectivity had catapulted the New Orleans school in 2012 onto U.S. News‘ list of top-50 business schools.

Then. in January 2013, Freeman reported that it had falsely inflated average GMAT scores of enrolled students by 35 points from 2007 to 2011 and had falsely boosted the number of applications received annually by an average of 116 applications during the same years.

U.S. News, in calculating rankings, gives considerable weight to GMAT scores, and after it ultimately accepted new numbers from Freeman, the school fell 24 places to land well outside the top 50. U.S. News subsequently put Freeman into its “unranked” category, a classification intended to last until this year’s Best Graduate Schools rankings, provided Freeman submits accurate data.

Bill Sandefer, who left Freeman in May 2012 after 15 years as admissions director, has never been explicitly accused of cooking the books, but Freeman has called the purported data-inflation the work of “a single business school employee” and dean Ira Solomon said in a statement, “the individual is no longer at the school.”

‘I REALLY DON’T THINK WE REPORTED ANYTHING INCORRECT TO U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT’

But Sandefer, admissions director during the entire time period at issue, says the numbers produced under his watch were correct and had been subjected to repeated examination.

“During my tenure there we went through three audits,” Sandefer says by phone from New Orleans. “I really don’t think we reported anything incorrect to U.S. News & World Report. I was in the admissions world for almost 20 years and found this entire thing very surprising.”

Sandefer disputes the notion that one staffer could have built false data sets for years. “The idea that I personally vetted 2,000 applications . . . and mysteriously input the data in a black box and everybody was surprised, five years later, I find that sort of ludicrous,” Sandefer says. Subordinate staff were inputting numbers and IT staff were working on the compilations, he says.

“I don’t think there was anything wrong with the data, so I don’t think somebody was doing something wrong to it,” Sandefer says.

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