UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATION SHOULD BE COMMENDED FOR ITS HANDLING OF THE SCANDAL
In any case, it was not Porat who actually reported the false data to U.S. News. Beginning with Fox’s submission for U.S. News’s 2015 online MBA rankings, the report found, that the employee principally responsible for rankings surveys knowingly misreported that all new program entrants had provided GMAT scores to Fox when only a small percentage actually did and allegedly did so at the dean’s direction in the presence of another employee. The Dean and the other employee deny that such direction was given. In addition to misreporting the number of students who took the GMAT from 2015 to 2018, the average undergraduate GPA was overstated, and there were inaccuracies in the number of offers of admission as well as in the degree of student indebtedness.
If anything, the university administration should be commended for calling in Jones Day to conduct an independent investigation, for releasing the full content of the report by the law firm, and for then immediately asking for the resignation of Dean Porat once the findings clearly implicated him in the scandal. Porat apparently refused to resign yesterday and was fired by Temple President Richard M. Englert and Provost JoAnne A. Epps.
Englert stepped up to the challenge. “It was the dean’s initiative to disband a longstanding committee charged with ensuring the accuracy of rankings data,” said Englert in a statement. “This absence of checks and balances, together with an undue focus on rankings, enabled such misreporting. While we are committed to determining the nature and extent of possible incorrect data reporting regarding other academic programs at Fox, one thing is clear: This is contrary to the fundamental value of integrity that is at the heart of our academic mission.”
WHAT BLAME SHOULD BE ASSIGNED TO U.S. NEWS?
But what about U.S. News? Each year, what is left of this national magazine publishes rankings that have a big impact on application volume, student enrollment, faculty recruitment and alumni giving. Yet, U.S. News takes little to no responsibilty for assuring the accuracy of the data it receives. The Financial Times, at least, does random audits of the data provided by schools for its rankings. U.S. News does no such thing.
Indeed, the only reason the scandal came to light was because the Fox School approached U.S. News after the publication of its online MBA ranking and told the magazine that it had misreported data in the first place. Only then did U.S. News kick Fox off its ranking in January of this year. The magazine did nothing to investigate the school’s earlier reported metrics and also did not comment on the accuracy of the school’s earlier rankings. Sources say it was an unidentified whistleblower who forced the disclosure by the school that ultimately led to yesterday’s sacking of Dean Porat.
The Fox School of Business is not the only school that has cheated. Jones Day had been hired by Tulane University after U.S. News ousted its Freeman School of Business for a similar reporting error in In 2013. The school admitted that it inflated average GMAT scores reported to U.S. News by an average 35 points for consecutive five years from 2007 through 2011. Freeman also conceded that it had falsely increased the number of completed applications it received by an average of 116 applications over the same time period.The magazine took the action after the school admitted that it had misreported key data to U.S. News—just as Temple Fox did this year.
U.S. NEWS HAS THE RESPONSIBILITY TO INSURE THE ACCURACY OF THE DATA IT USES
U.S. News would later reveal that the extent of the fraud was even somewhat greater than reported by Freeman. The organization found that the corrected average GMAT score for the fall 2011 entering class was 631 versus the 670 originally reported by Freeman—a difference of 39 points. A revision to the number of MBA applications received by the school showed an even greater difference than the originally reported number. The corrected figures showed that Freeman accepted 93% of its applicants for the fall 2011 entering class instead of 57%–a difference of 36 percentage points. Tulane also was suspended from U.S. News’ ranking for a year as a result.
Truth is, few schools are involved in the kind of systematic cheating detailed in the Jones Day report on the Fox scandal. There is some fudging of numbers that goes on here and there. Some administrators are likely to interpret ranking survey questions in a way that allows them to provide answers that are more favorable to their institutions. The administrators who are willing to shade the truth do so because rankings have assumed far too much importance. That is why U.S. News and other ranking organizations share some of the blame for what went on at Temple Fox. It has created an environment where there is undue pressure on schools to cheat because rankings have assumed such outsized importance in a school’s reputation.
And it’s not only schools that cheat. Students and alumni who complete satisfaction surveys knowing that their answers will have an impact on the stature of their own degrees have plenty of incentive not to tell the absolute truth. Corporate recruiters who are alumni of the schools at which they interview job candidates also have reasons to list their alma maters higher than warranted in surveys distributed by organizations that rank schools.
ONE POSITIVE OUTCOME: FEWER PEOPLE WILL TRUST SCHOOL RANKINGS
Given the rankings monster it has created, U.S. News needs to do more to insure that the data provided by the schools is accurate and truthful. Random audits of schools, much like those conducted by the Financial Times, would be a solid step in that direction. Those audits should be ongoing, before and after the magazine publishes its rankings. If U.S. News doesn’t get its act together, it is as irresponsible as Dean Porat and his Fox colleagues at perpetrating this fraud.
There is one positive outcome of this disaster. More candidates, students and alumni will naturally look at rankings far more skeptically than ever before. All rankings should be treated with a very big grain of salt. “Prospective students should consult multiple rankings, where available, keep a healthy (skeptical) perspective, and put more faith in ‘program fit’ and long term goals than mere rank,” counsels Turner of the McCombs School. “As I tell people all the time, a school’s rank can change tomorrow, but you are a program’s alum forever.”
For now, at least, Fox has lost a highly accomplished leader who clearly lost his own way–and schools rankings overall have taken as a big a hit as Temple University.