Take-home exams. Instructors looking the other way. Coursework that could be described as anything but rigorous. The misconduct and mismanagement were flagrant and widely tolerated. And no one acted to change it.
These are the accusations of a former student in Tulane University’s International Master of Finance program, a curriculum designed for students from partner schools in Latin America to pursue a “double degree,” or doble titulación, from the New Orleans, Louisiana-based university’s Freeman School of Business and its partner, Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala City, Guatemala, and Panamá.
In the program, UFM students enroll in a 34-hour curriculum that includes 16 credit hours of foundation courses taught in Guatemala and 18 credit hours of coursework delivered by Tulane faculty in Guatemala and Panamá City. As part of the program curriculum, UFM students also participate in an on-campus business module in New Orleans.
It is a program thoroughly corrupted by cheating, claims Fergus Hodgson, a New Zealand native who enrolled in the Tulane MFIN in 2017. Hodgson, who has since been admitted to the MBA program at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, tells Poets&Quants that he entered the Tulane-UFM doble titulación as a way to get a degree from a “credible” U.S. school for about half the price while studying in a country he knew well, where he could improve his self-taught Spanish and be among friends.
‘EVERYONE CHEATS…THE QUALITY OF THE PROGRAM IS JUST GARBAGE’
However, he quickly found that the program’s quality of instruction was “a joke,” support was “fleeting,” and plagiarism and cheating were “near universal.” Instructors would hand out exams and then leave the room, allowing students to work together on the answers. When he brought all of this to the attention of school officials in Guatemala and the United States, Hodgson says he was brushed off, ostracized — and in one case offered “help” to study far away, in Spain.
“Everyone cheats. Tulane is giving out its business degrees to Central Americans who make the process a laughingstock,” Hodgson says. “Most are from Guatemala and Panamá, and they do not take the GMAT at all. The quality, everything, is just garbage as far as I’m concerned, the whole process. The only thing you get out of it is that degree from Tulane.”
Asked by P&Q to respond, a Tulane official said the school is aware of Hodgson’s accusations and that Tulane has taken “appropriate action” to address them, but declined to provide details.
This isn’t the first time Tulane’s Freeman School has found itself in a controversy. Six years ago, the school admitted that it had inflated the average GMAT scores of its full-time-MBA students along with the number of applicants to its MBA program to get a better ranking from U.S. News. Freeman submitted the fraudulent data for five consecutive years (see We Faked Data, Admits Tulane B-School and Who Cooked The Books At Tulane?).
A LONG ROAD FROM NEW ZEALAND TO GUATEMALA
Hodgson, 36, was raised on a sheep and cattle farm in New Zealand. Neither of his parents earned university degrees. Lacking the “historical familial knowledge with business schools or university, in general,” he nevertheless gained admission to Boston University as an undergraduate, earning an economics degree in 2007.
He then spent the next 10 years working and traveling widely in Canada and the United States, becoming an economics and finance editor, analyst, and commentator with think tanks, media outlets, and publications in Canada and the United States. In November 2016 he launched Antigua Report, a startup consultancy based in Quito, Ecuador that is focused on financial economics with the mission of “connecting the Americas.”
It was around this time that Hodgson started contemplating a return to school. “I wanted to get an American degree or something from a more affordable place,” he says. “I looked all around the world and found this particular program in Guatemala that was in partnership with Tulane. I had lived in New Orleans, and I thought that Tulane was credible.”
TULANE IS RANKED AMONG THE TOP 100 MBA PROGRAMS BY POETS&QUANTS
It is. The Tulane Freeman School of Business MBA program, with a full-time MBA enrollment of 73 and a yearly tuition price tag of about $53,000, is ranked 71st by Poets&Quants and 63rd in the 2020 U.S. News ranking. U.S. News ranks Freeman’s part-time program, which has 135 students, 74th in the United States. In 2018 the school completed a long-awaited expansion that resulted in 80,000 square feet of new and renovated space. All its degree programs are accredited by AACSB.
On paper, Tulane’s partner in the MFIN — as well as an international MBA, online MBA, and international law degree — Francisco Marroquin University, also boasts a sterling reputation. It was founded in 1971 by Manuel Ayau, a Guatemalan who had studied in the United States and returned to his home country on a mission to change the way people think about business, “to teach and disseminate the ethical, legal, and overall economic principles of a society of free and responsible persons,” as the school’s mission states.
Ayau, affectionately known as Muso, named the new school after a 16th-century bishop known for his translations of Central American languages. Home to the Ludwig von Mises Library, which is visited by 100,000 people annually, UFM was once described by American economist Milton Friedman as one of the leading B-schools in Latin America.
RIGHT PRICE, WRONG PROGRAM
Hodgson says UFM is well-known in libertarian circles because of Muso’s libertarian philosophy — a philosophy Hodgson largely shares. “Muso’s basic idea was that you needed respect for freedom and a willingness to accept responsibility to make a free society work,” Hodgson says. “This was a great man. I knew about him and respected his mission.”
For Hodgson’s purposes, the price was great, too. Through the Tulane-UFM doble titulación program, a Master of Finance degree would cost about $33,000, a little more than half the $61,200 cost of the single degree at Tulane. (The MBA is similarly discounted.) “So I thought, ‘Well, I know the problems in Latin America, I’ve been traveling it. This is a particular university with a particular mission.’ And Tulane is not the best university in the U.S. but it’s credible, so this is a way for me to maybe get a Master of Finance at half price, and go to Guatemala. And so I did.”
The first red flag was that admission standards were low. A basic in-house math and logic test served as a substitute for the Graduate Management Admission Test and the Graduate Record Exam, followed by an interview that Hodgson says lacked the care of a U.S. program. Beginning his studies, his fears were quickly realized: the program was riddled with academic misconduct. Plagiarism and cheating among the students was “near universal,” Hodgson says. “This became apparent to me quickly. They were cheating blatantly in class and I would tell the professors, and nothing would be done. People would work on the quizzes together, basically. In one class, it was literally the same test as the last year, as one of the guys who had failed last year told me.
TULANE STUDENTS SHOULD FEEL ‘HORRIFIED & SHORTCHANGED’
“I informed the professors, business school deans of both universities, and the UFM president (Gabriel Calzada), who had a personal meeting with me. At one point I took out my phone and took photos of people working on the exams together and I sent them to the dean in Tulane (Ira Solomon) and the dean of Marroquin (Helmuth Chávez) and I said, ‘Look, people are working on their exams in the middle of class. This is ridiculous, right?'” He asked to finish the program in New Orleans but was denied. UFM’s dean offered instead to help him get accepted at a university in Spain. He declined.
Talking to one professor, Hodgson got a possible explanation. “He said that in the past he had pushed back against cheating. He said the administration did not appreciate his efforts. He added that other universities, at least those in Guatemala, do not want to hire such professors.”
It appears, Hodgson says, that the students prefer it that way, “and they are the customers. If you were to crack down, you would have to do so against 80% or more of the class. That is what I did not understand when I began. I assumed the other students would appreciate my efforts, but I was alone. Everyone just went along with it. By reporting cheating, I was ostracizing myself. The dean’s way of avoiding the glaring problem was to send me to Spain.
“If I were a Tulane student in New Orleans, I would be both horrified at the scam and feel shortchanged, since these people pay half the price and cheat throughout. My experience was with my own eyes, since people brought take-home exams to class and worked on them together, and I have heard of some people simply outsourcing their entire online MBAs. The educational value was pitiful — no set office hours, no TA support, and no career office — and the professors couldn’t care less about the cheating. No one seemed to really care.”