MBA Rankings: Why Are Schools Willing To Cheat?

Rankings illustration from the new graphic novel on MBA admissions by Menlo Coaching

Few business school deans have had as great an impact on their institutions as M. Moshe Porat at Temple University’s Fox School of Business. When he was named dean in 1996, Temple was largely a good commuter school and little more than that.

Over a nearly unprecedented 22-year run, however, the Polish-born Porat turned Fox into one of the top public urban business schools in the country. He more than doubled student enrollment to over 9,000 undergraduate and graduate students, substantially increasing the faculty to more than 200 profs so that Fox boasted the fourth-largest full-time faculty at Temple University.

It was Porat, too, who created a school of tourism and hospitality management at Temple in 1998, brought in the school’s naming gift from alum Richard J. Fox in 1999 and raised tens of millions to fund in 2009 a new state-of-the-art, $80 million home that became the envy of the 384-acre campus in Philadelphia.

CREATING AN INCLUSIVE CULTURE OF LEARNING: THE FACE OF THE NEW AMERICA

He spoke with genuine pride about the diversity of the young people he was educating, many of them first-generation students with parents who migrated to the U.S. from all over the world. Porat would point to the bustling crowds of multi-cultural learners in the school’s expansive lobby in Alter Hall and proclaim that this was the face of the new America, a generation of young people that Fox was preparing for success.

Porat also boosted the school’s prominence in carefully watched U.S. News rankings, getting Fox’s online MBA ranking to first for four consecutive years, moving the school’s part-time MBA program to seventh in the U.S. last year, a jump of 46 places in four years, and achieving a full-time MBA ranking of 32nd last year, up nine spots from the previous year.

Unfortunately, those ranking gains were part of an ongoing fraud. Dean Porat, a strong willed man who made more than half a million dollars a year as dean, was fired from his job yesterday (July 9) after an independent investigation found that Fox had knowingly reported falsified data to U.S. News over several years to achieve its rankings success (see Temple Dean Sacked For Falsifying Rankings Data).

‘THE FOX WAS GUARDING THE HENHOUSE’

The scope of the fraud shocked many in the business school community. “That was a big surprise,” one rival dean told Poets&Quants. “I didn’t expect that to go all the way to the dean.  Temple got a black eye but in a way this impacts the perception of all business schools. This is getting enough publicity so it is going to be interesting to see how the public views all the rankings, at least in the short term.  I think many are going to look at all rankings more suspiciously. ”

Matt Turner, a market researcher at the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business who is the school’s steward for all external media rankings, agrees. “This type of flagrant misreporting is pretty shocking,” he told Poets&Quants. “While ranking surveys frequently subject schools to poorly defined questions, forcing administrators to interpret their meanings, this is not the case here.  The metrics mentioned in this article are as straightforward and objective as you can get.

“This deception, which went on for several years, is also a reminder to everyone that schools report their own data.  Most are ethical and trustworthy, but, in the absence of external audits, shenanigans are always possible.  Buyers should beware.  If something looks too good to be true, then maybe there’s a problem.  In this case, the Fox was guarding the henhouse, so to speak.”

Fox School of Business Dean Moshe Porat was fired from his job on July 9th

IS TEMPLE AN ISOLATED CASE? OR DO OTHER BUSINESS SCHOOLS CHEAT?

It is an especially devastating end for the 71-year-old Porat, who joined Temple as a teaching and research assistant in 1979, earned his Ph.D. from the school, served as a professor of risk management for many years, until working his way up to the deanship in 1996. Like many of his own students, he made his way to a successful career from humble circumstances. Born in Poland, he received his undergraduate and MBA degrees from Tel Aviv University before arriving at Temple University to complete his doctoral studies.

Why would such a highly accomplished dean who had made such a positive mark on his institution resort to cheating? Do rankings create so much pressure on school administrators that the temptation to inflate ranking metrics is impossible to resist? Can a business school dean be successful if his or her school fails to rise in highly prominent rankings? Do other schools cheat?

Those are the important questions that go unanswered in the seven-page report released yesterday by Jones Day, the law firm brought in to investigate the rankings scandal last January when U.S. News tossed Fox out of its online MBA ranking for misreporting key facts about the program that resulted in its No. 1 ranking. What seems certain is that Porat became nearly obsessed with gaining outside recognition for the school’s real progress through such rankings.

DEAN PORAT LED A ‘CONCERTED, RANKINGS-FOCUSED STRATEGY’ AT THE SCHOOL

Jones Day investigators discovered that Dean Porat and other Fox personnel made clear that improving or maintaining Fox’s position in rankings was a key priority.  “Fox had in place a concerted, rankings-focused strategy including detailed analyses of U.S. News’s rankings methodology and strategies tied to specific U.S. News data metrics, which strategy was promoted internally by the Dean and other Fox personnel,” the investigation found. “The environment fostered by the school’s emphasis on rankings contributed to the reporting of inaccurate information to U.S. News. Moreover, the Dean’s focus on rankings, coupled with his personal management style, caused Fox personnel who interacted with the Dean on ranking-related matters to feel pressure to perform in this regard.”

The explosive details in the report portray a dean and the people who reported to him—none of whom have been publicly named—conducting a fraud that was several years in the making, that provided U.S. News inaccurate data across multiple metrics on several degree programs, and that consciously worked to cover up the unethical behavior. Dean Porat, of course, wasn’t the only person involved in the fraud.

Though unnamed in the report, all eyes are now on Darin Kapanjie, who has been credited with both creating and implementing the online offering. He has been academic director of Fox’s online MBA program from the start, having joined the school in 2003, ironically in Fox’s statistics department. Kimberly Chenwinski has been senior associate director of the online MBA since 2011 and had previously been in charge of insuring that the school’s programs were in compliance with university and graduate school policies and guidelines. A spokesperson for Temple declined to comment on whether other employees have either been reprimanded or fired outright for the fraud.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.