Fired Missouri-KC Prof Claims Retaliation

UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton, who announced last month that he will retire after the 2017-2018 academic year, is named as a co-defendant in a lawsuit by a former professor who claims he was fired in retaliation for calling out the business school’s practice of inflating its statistics to earn more favorable rankings. UMKC photo

Richard Arend, a tenured professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Henry W. Bloch School of Management, was fired in December 2016. Was it a case of “substantial lack of fitness,” as the school claims, or was it retaliation for being a rankings whistleblower, as Arend says in a newly filed lawsuit against the university?

The backstory is a cautionary tale about what schools may be willing to do to get on the radar of rankings outlets, and thus attract higher-quality candidates and faculty, which in turn boosts a school’s profile — the B-school virtuous cycle. And if Arend is to be believed, it’s also a story about the perils of whistleblowing. For five years, Arend says, he campaigned to bring attention to a systematic and orchestrated inflation and falsification of data at the Bloch School that led to undeserved accolades, including a No. 1 ranking in 2012 for research in innovation management from the scholarly Journal of Product Innovation Management (JPIM) and four years of top-25 rankings in entrepreneurship from the Princeton Review. Even after the school was remonstrated by the Journal and stripped of its Princeton Review rankings, Arend didn’t let up, calling for the school to return an award from the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship that he said also was awarded based on false data.

As reported by the Kansas City Star, Arend’s efforts to undo the unearned plaudits may have cost him his job. That’s the version of events Arend — who had lifetime tenure in his $185,000-a-year job and could only be fired for “cause” — tells in the lawsuit filed in Jackson County Circuit Court. The suit names the University of Missouri Board of Curators as lead defendant, with UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton and then-interim UM System President Michael Middleton also defendants because of their decision to fire Arend. Finally, the suit names a former professor and head of the Bloch School’s Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Michael Song, who resigned in 2015 after admitting to falsifying data to boost the institute’s reputation.

UMKC, for its part, told the Star that Arend was fired for “demonstrated substantial lack of fitness in the professional capacity as a teacher and researcher at the University,” and cited three causes for the dismissal: “research and/or other academic misconduct; his actual or attempted intimidation, threats, coercion, and/or harassment directed against students, faculty, and staff; and other misconduct.”

THE LITTLE B-SCHOOL THAT COULD?

Richard Arend. UMKC photo

UMKC’s Bloch School’s full-time MBA program, which currently has about 57 students, is not ranked by U.S. News; its part-time program, with a current enrollment of about 159, is tied for 143rd.

In no other rankings can the school be found, including Bloomberg Businessweek and Poets&Quants. This is the predicament of many schools: Without being ranked, you can’t draw top talent; without top talent, you can’t get ranked. It’s not hard to understand why UMKC, or any school, would be eager to find a way to break out of that Catch-22.

Richard Arend contends UMKC found a way, but not a legitimate one. It began with the hiring of former Dean Teng-Kee Tan in 2009 and a mandate to remedy UMKC’s absence from the established rankings. At the invitation of Tan and there Regnier Institute’s Michael Song, two Chinese scholars spent a year at UMKC during which they authored the study that would be published in the JPIM, a bimonthly peer-reviewed academic journal, ranking UMKC No. 1 in the world for research in innovation management — higher than Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, MIT Sloan School of Management, and dozens of other world-renowned B-schools.

Was it a case of the little B-school that could? Or, as the Star found upon investigating, was there something suspicious afoot? The latter certainly seemed to be the case when the newspaper reported the two study authors came from the same Chinese university where Song had spent four years as a part-time professor, and that the three had not only worked in the same building at UMKC, but had consulted over the No.-1-in-the-world study before its publication.

SOME HEADS ROLL; AREND CALLS FOR MORE

The JPIM, currently edited by Gloria Barczak, professor of marketing at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University, published the UMKC study in 2012. Following mid-2014 revelations of In March 2015 it published an “expression of concern” over the study, but never retracted it.

But by then other dominoes had started falling at UMKC. In February 2015, after an audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Princeton Review stripped the Bloch School of four years of top-25 rankings for entrepreneurship because key metrics had been inflated: The school, it found, had falsely boosted the number of students enrolled in entrepreneurship programs, the number of student clubs devoted to entrepreneurship, the number of mentor programs on-campus, and the percentage of students who launch businesses while in school. After the loss of the rankings, Song resigned; he was followed out the door by John Norton, associate director of the Regnier Institute, who admitted falsifying data to achieve better rankings but said he did it at the behest of Song.

Arend had filed grievances against the two. He did not curtail his criticisms once they were gone. In the summer of 2015 he accused Chancellor Morton and Bloch School Dean David Donnelly (Teng-Kee Tan stepped down for health reasons in 2013) of responsibility for the misconduct. He also called for the return of the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship award. In January 2016, Morton initiated the dismissal process, which apparently was completed in December.

A STRONG BACKGROUND IN ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Arend’s page at the Bloch School website is still up. It lists his areas of expertise as “Unusual ways of value creation and destruction, strategy theory, entrepreneurship theory, DCV, RBV, alliances, opportunities.” In addition to his full professorship, he was a Henry W. Bloch Endowed Research Fellow. According to his faculty page, he earned his Ph.D. “from the University of British Columbia, Canada; his MBA from York University, Canada; and a B.A.Sc. from the University of Toronto,” and in addition to working for Boeing, IBM, and other large corporations, he has taught in the MBA program at the Stern School at New York University.

“Arend’s expertise spans strategy and entrepreneurship,” according to his bio, “focusing heavily on theory. He has published in top journals engaging in all of the main methods of research from models to simulation to experiments to critical analysis to empirical work on primary and secondary data. He has co-authored with top scholars in strategy and entrepreneurship.”

Efforts to reach Arend or his Kansas City-based attorney were unsuccessful.

4 FACULTY COMMITTEES FROM 2014-2016 REVIEWED AREND’S ‘MISCONDUCT’

UMKC responded to an emailed request for comment with a written statement from their media relations department:

“UMKC is aware of the lawsuit filed by Dr. Richard Arend against the University and, while we traditionally do not comment on pending litigation, we felt it was important to provide additional background and clarification.

“Dr. Richard Arend was dismissed for cause after a 10-person committee of his tenured faculty peers at UMKC determined he failed to meet important standards set by — and enforced by — faculty. The committee heard evidence for six days, including extensive testimony from Dr. Arend himself, and then unanimously recommended dismissing him due to his ‘demonstrated substantial lack of fitness in the professional capacity as a teacher and researcher at the University.’ Now, in a lawsuit seeking money from the university, Dr. Arend claims that he was dismissed for being a whistleblower. This is simply not true.

“None of the numerous charges brought against Dr. Arend regarding his misconduct — and no part of the faculty committee’s recommendation leading to his dismissal — was based on his alleged whistle blowing. To the contrary, the faculty committee found that Dr. Arend repeatedly engaged in serious misconduct as a teacher and researcher in three areas: 1) research and/or other academic misconduct; 2) his actual or attempted intimidation, threats, coercion, and/or harassment directed against students, faculty, and staff; and 3) other misconduct.

“The faculty committee that recommended dismissal was the fourth faculty committee since early 2014 to review a variety of issues related to Dr. Arend’s misconduct. Following the faculty committee’s unanimous recommendation to terminate Dr. Arend, UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton terminated Dr. Arend’s employment on July 22, 2016. UM System President Michael Middleton and the University of Missouri Board of Curators both upheld the termination decision later in 2016. The dismissal for cause proceedings followed established practice outlined in the University of Missouri Collected Rules and Regulations.”

DON’T MISS BLOCH SCHOOL STRIPPED OF TOP 25 RANKING and LEEDS DEAN, HIT BY COMPLAINTS, STEPS DOWN

  • Straight Shooter

    There is so much wrong with this article. Readers must know that Dr Arend was dismissed for only one reason: he blew the whistle on academic misconduct and corruption. He was wrongfully terminated. His termination is a clear case of retaliation against a whistle blower and that is illegal.

    I have known Dr Richard Arend firsthand while being an insider at UMKC. He is one of the most honorable, honest, and capable academics I have ever met. The reasons this article cites for his dismissal are totally false and made up. They are vague, brief and overlapping. No specifics are provided because none exist. From the article: three causes for the dismissal: “research and/or other academic
    misconduct; his actual or attempted intimidation, threats, coercion,
    and/or harassment directed against students, faculty, and staff; and
    other misconduct.”

    It easy very easy to refute each of these causes for dismissal:
    1) research and/or other academic misconduct: No specifics are being offered in the article, but it is ironic that Dr Arend is the one who pointed out the gross academic misconduct perpetrated by Michael Song and colleagues in the JPIM ranking article and in the submissions for awards from USASBE. Dr Arend has never committed any academic misconduct as far as I know, in fact he has been a victim of it when co-authoring an article for Strategic Management Journal with Michael Song and his ex-wife Lisa Zhao. Song refused to sign off on the copy transfer agreement for an extended period of time because there was a dispute about the order of authorship.
    2) actual or attempted intimidation, threats, coercion, and/or harassment directed against students, faculty, and staff. Interestingly, again no specific instances are mentioned. In fact Dr Arend has been the victim of all these things because he exposed the misconduct by Song and Teng-Kee Tan. Song attempted to deny Dr Arend a promotion to full professor, denied Dr Arend annual salary increases despite stellar research productivity, and turned all faculty and PhD students against Dr Arend, because Dr Arend blew the whistle on the fraudulent ranking article and awards ‘won’. Ironically, Dr Arend helped several PhD students publish academic articles in top management and entrepreneurship journals, provided career advice and help junior faculty publish in a top entrepreneurship journal until he found out several problems with the underlying data provided by Song. 3) other misconduct: Again, no specifics are mentioned. I have no idea what is referred to here. Perhaps UMKC interprets misconduct as having their dirty laundry being exposed by Dr Arend.

    Ironically, all three causes are applicable to Michael Song, enabled by then Dean Teng-Kee Tan. Donnelly, at that time, Associate Dean turned a blind eye to all the corruption and misconduct that was going on at the Bloch School, including the witch hunt against Dr Arend by Song and Tan.

    The assertion by the article that: “None of the numerous charges brought against Dr. Arend regarding his
    misconduct — and no part of the faculty committee’s recommendation
    leading to his dismissal — was based on his alleged whistle blowing” is totally nonsense. He was precisely dismissed because he blew the whistle on the misconduct that was going on in the Global Entrepreneurship department at the Bloch School. Make no mistake about that.