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?
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.”