The Princeton Review yesterday (Feb. 1) removed from its ranking of the best entrepreneurship programs the Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The organization took the unusual step after an audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that the Bloch School inflated key metrics that it reported to the Princeton Review for at least three years from 2011 to 2013.
The independent probe found that administrators exaggerated several reported metrics by as much as tenfold in an apparent effort to improve the school’s chances of gaining a spot on the Princeton Review’s annual list of the best entrepreneurship programs. The school falsely boosted the number of students enrolled in entrepreneurship programs, the student clubs devoted to entrepreneurship, the number of mentor programs on-campus, and the percentage of students who launch businesses while in school.
“We were extremely disappointed to learn that the University of Missouri-Kansas City falsified data about the school per a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers on January 30,” said Robert Franek, senior vice president and publisher of the Princeton Review, in a statement. “As a result of this new information, we are removing the University of Missouri-Kansas City from our 2014 ranking lists of the best college and business school entrepreneurial programs. Schools earn a spot on our entrepreneurship ranking through school-reported data. Every school signs an affidavit to ensure their information is accurate. We take these affidavits and this news very seriously.”
SCHOOL NOW ASKS PRINCETON REVIEW TO STRIP IT OF ITS RANKINGS FOR THREE FULL YEARS
While U.S. News & World Report has in the past suspended schools found to cheat, including Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, this is the first time that the Princeton Review has ever stripped a school of its rankings. The action affects both the graduate and undergraduate programs at the Bloch School’s Regnier Institute of Entreneurship and Innovation. The graduate program had been ranked No. 24 and the undergraduate program was No. 25.
The school responded today to the Princeton Review’s decision. “While Bloch had revised its application process in 2014 and has great confidence in that year’s rankings submission, we understand why the Princeton Review has taken this step,” said UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton. “Even one inaccurate data point is one too many, and our integrity is paramount. With that in mind, we have requested that The Princeton Review withdraw our rankings from 2011, 2012 and 2013, based on the inaccurate information provided for those years.”
That’s a significant change in communications strategy for the university. On Friday, the school essentially compounded the fraud by issuing a news release on Friday with the headline: “Bloch Ranking Validated: Independent review upholds No. 1 research ranking.” The release could easily have allowed readers to conclude that an August article in The Kansas City Star which found “a pattern of exaggerations and misstatements” by the business school largely erroneous. In fact, the audit confirmed many of the story’s most damning allegations. The article led Missouri governor Jay Nixon to request the investigation which led to Friday’s report.
A RATHER POSITIVE INTERPRETATION BY THE SCHOOL OF THE AUDIT
The “ranking validated” claim by the school was based on a report from a retired professor of entrepreneurship at the Thunderbird School of Global Management who was asked to review the PwC audit and issue his own judgments. The professor-turned-consultant, Robert D. Hisrich, concluded that a journal article that led to Bloch being ranked first in innovation management research was consistent with generally acceptable professional practices. Therefore, its ranking was “validated.”
But the PwC audit found that the editor of the The Journal of Product Innovation Management, which published the article claiming Bloch had topped Harvard, MIT, Stanford and other business schools in the field, was unaware that the authors of the article were both visiting scholars at the university and knew some of the players. Because the article was based on data (number of articles written in journals of various influence, etc.), the journal’s editor said that the article’s findings still stood. However, he said he wished he had known about the authors’ ties to the institution they praised.
The authors are two researchers from China. They gave a letter to the auditor in which they said that there was no need to identify their UMKC connections because the “double-blind” peer review process — in which they don’t know who reviews their work, and the reviewers don’t know the author — prevented conflict of interest. The audit, however, found that at the journal in question “papers are solely reviewed by the editor and not subject to the typical double-blind review of other research papers.”
HOW INDEPENDENT WAS HISRICH?
Consultant Hisrich’s six-page report, moreover, appeared to downplay the PwC key findings of fraud. Instead of referring to the falsely reported metrics as fraudulent, he used such language as “exaggerated” and “misstated” and at another point noted that the now corrected data was merely “conservative.” Hisrich also oddly interpreted an interview PwC conducted with the Princeton Review to maintain that he couldn’t conclude that the information made a material difference in UMKC’s rankings.
However, that conclusion–based on a single quote in the PwC report from the Princeton Review editorial director–did not directly address the fact that the auditors had found multiple cases of fraudulent reporting by the school over several years from 2011 to 2013. The Princeton Review director, according to the report, claimed that “a shift in one data point, even going from 100% to 0%, would not change the overall outcome of the 2014 ranking of UMKC’s program due to the Princeton Review Board’s process which includes evaluating 40 data points.” However, the audit had shown that at least three or more metrics had been falsely reported to Princeton Review.
The investigation, however, disclosed major shifts in three data points going back several years from at least 2011 to 2013–until the articles published by the Kansas City Star last year. “While I conclude that inaccurate data was submitted to the Princeton Review for three subject matter areas, I cannot conclude that the inaccurate data made a material difference in UMKC’s rankings,” wrote Hisrich. “The Princeton Review Board (PRB) does not disclose its rankings methodology and declined to recalculate the previous rankings based on revised data. And recent submissions of UMKC using more conservative data resulted in UMKC remaining in the top 25 universities in the Princeton Review Rankings.”