If Temple University thought the rankings scandal at the Fox School of Business would go away once it fired the school’s dean, it was badly mistaken. Pennsylvania’s attorney general announced on Friday (July 13) it would investigate Temple’s business school after an investigative team from the law firm of Jones Day had found that Fox had knowingly provided false data to U.S. News for at least four years so the school’s online MBA program would rank first in the nation. The law firm also found, however, that Temple had fudged numbers for rankings of its full- and part-time MBA programs.
The decision by Attorney General Josh Shapiro to open the probe occurs just four days after Temple made public the Jones Day report and sacked Dean M. Moshe Porat who had been in the top job at Fox for the past 22 years. Jones Day found numerous examples of misreported data, if not outright fraud, along with evidence of a cover-up (see Temple Dean Sacked For Falsifying Rankings Data).
“Fox provided U.S. News with inaccurate information across multiple data metrics that are part of the publication’s OMBA rankings methodology,” according to the Jones Day report. “And while Jones Day focused on information that Fox provided to U.S. News relating to the school’s OMBA program, the investigation revealed that Fox provided U.S. News with erroneous information relating to other programs as well. On certain occasions, Fox’s reporting of inaccurate information to U.S. News was done knowingly and intentionally for the purpose of improving or maintaining Fox’s standing in the relevant U.S. News rankings.”
THE STATE’S BUREAU OF CONSUMER PROTECTION WILL DO THE PROBE
Attorney General Shapiro directed the office’s Bureau of Consumer Protection to examine the case, including Temple’s business and marketing practices, to determine whether the false numbers were limited to the Fox School of Business and if any laws were broken. “My job is to ensure students and their families receive the benefit of the bargain when they make significant expenditures to advance their education,” Shapiro said in a letter to Temple president Richard M. Englert. “It is especially troubling to learn that an institution entrusted with significant commonwealth funding to educate our citizens is alleged to have so flagrantly violated the trust of students, families and taxpayers alike.”
The scandal erupted in January when U.S. News tossed Temple’s No. 1 ranked online MBA program off its ranking after discovering that the school misreported critical data on its program (see U.S. News Boots Temple Fox From Online MBA Ranking). Temple had reported that all 255 of the program’s latest incoming class submitted GMAT scores to get into the program. In fact, the school acknowledged that only 50 students, or 19.6%, submitted GMAT scores. As a result, Temple’s online MBA program, ranked first in the nation by U.S. News for four consecutive years, was moved to unranked status.
Sources say it was a whistleblower who caused Fox to go back to U.S. News to admit that it had “misreported” data for the ranking. In any case, it led to the decision by Temple President Richard Englert to hire Jones Day to conduct an independent investigation. It was clear from the very start that there was more to it than a simple error in reporting data (see Online MBA Ranking Scandal At Temple Fox Could Worsen).
By early February, Temple had asked U.S. News to withdraw its submissions for every MBA ranking (see Temple Bows Out of All U.S. News Rankings). By mid-February, one former online MBA student filed a class action suitHe has filed a class action lawsuit against Temple, alleging that the school submitted false data to U.S. News to gain its No. 1 standing in that ranking for four consecutive years (see Online MBA Files Class Action Suit Against Temple).
JONES DAY PROBE FOUND THAT FOX HAD A ‘CONCERTED, RANKINGS-FOCUSED STRATEGY’ IN PLACE
During its investigation, Jones Day interviewed 17 Fox employees and reviewed more than 32,000 documents. The firm’s 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 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.”
‘THIS TYPE OF FLAGRANT MISREPORTING IS PRETTY SHOCKING’
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.”
Shapiro told Englert to expect “a detailed demand for information” from his office next week. A spokesperson for the university said the school will be “open and transparent” in cooperating with the attorney general’s investigation.