The distinguished emeritus business school prof walked into the room and took a quick look at the elephant. He made a brief circuit around its bulk, eyeballing it up and down. Then he ambled out the door, and faced the crowd who were eagerly awaiting his take on the contents of the room.
“Tell us about the elephant!” they shouted. “Tell us all about it!”
The professor raised his shoulders in a shrug. “Elephant?” he said. “What elephant?”
Robert D. Hisrich, emeritus professor of entrepreneurship at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, was hired by the University of Missouri to investigate allegations that the university’s Bloch School of Management was manipulating rankings of its entrepreneurship program.
GOVERNOR WANTED THE INVESTIGATION
It was a serious matter. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon himself had requested a probe, after an investigation by the Kansas City Star revealed some extremely suspicious shenanigans at Bloch. Allegations of rankings-manipulation covered a period of several years. There were multiple players involved, from Bloch professors and administrators to a pair of visiting scholars from China to the editors of an academic journal to the representatives of one of America’s wealthiest men.
An effective probe would result in dozens, perhaps hundreds of pages of analysis and findings, one might expect. Hisrich’s report, excluding the background section and appendices, ran to 4 1/2 pages. In big print. With lots of white space in between. He was paid $24,800 for it.
The most elephantine of the Bloch School rankings manipulations concerned the former head of the school’s entrepreneurship center – recently resigned professor Michael Song – and a journal article that gave global No. 1 status for innovation-management education to the center and to Song. Song admitted during a PricewaterhouseCoopers audit that he helped edit the article, and said he may have written some of it.
Hisrich refers to Song’s involvement as amounting to “stylistic, but not substantive, comments.” How an admission that Song may have written part of the article escapes the “substantive” is mind-boggling.
GENERALLY ACCEPTABLE ON WHAT PLANET?
Hisrich concludes that the article in the Journal of Product Innovation Management was produced in accordance with “generally acceptable professional practices.”
Now a Bloch professor is speaking out about the emeritus professor’s interpretation regarding Song’s input into the article. “Why Hisrich did not immediately conclude that such circumstances were unacceptable is unfathomable,” professor Richard Arend tells Poets&Quants.
Arend also takes issue with Hisrich’s conclusion that the research methodology that produced the journal article – written by two visiting scholars to Bloch from China who failed to disclose in the article or to journal editors their affiliation with the school – was sound. The article’s ranking of the “World’s Top Innovation Management Scholars and Universities” was based on the number of journal articles produced. The Star suggested the methodology was designed to cherry-pick a selection of journals and a timeframe that maximized the benefits to Bloch’s entrepreneurship program and Song.
Hisrich noted in his report that “the research methodology employed by the two scholars was clearly stated in the ranking method section of the article in question.”
Arend calls the methodology “non-traditional” and “not acceptable in a scholarly profession.”
‘THAT IS NOT SCIENCE, BUT NONSENSE’
“One cannot just choose any (self-serving) method to run a scholarly study,” Arend says, “especially when an established method already exists, and conclude it is acceptable because the method was explicitly stated; that is not science, but nonsense.”
Hisrich, according to his CV, has a long history of grant investigation work for high-profile clients including the Coca-Cola Foundation and General Electric Foundation, and has written or co-written 37 books and more than 225 articles, in publications ranging from the Journal of Small Business Management to the Journal of Christian Camping.
The controversy over the article is one element of a broader scandal that saw the Princeton Review dump Bloch from four years of rankings because the school had submitted false data about its entrepreneurship program. Song, who played a central role in the data submissions, has resigned, as has John Norton, a former non-tenured professor who told PwC he had submitted misleading data to the Princeton Review at Song’s direction, and did so because he feared for his job.