Scandals. Controversies. Resignations. Disgrace. Since Poets&Quants’ founding by Editor-in-Chief John A. Byrne in August 2010, we’ve seen it all — and then some.
To celebrate our 10-year anniversary, P&Q is taking a look back at our coverage over the years — everything from the biggest innovations to the major, game-changing trends; from the stories that readers loved the most to the new MBA-helmed companies that have made the biggest splashes. But, of course, we couldn’t leave out some of the stories that have had the biggest impact: the salacious, the shocking, the scandalous — the most memorable controversies of the decade.
From dirty behavior by deans to cooking the books for unearned rankings gains, here are the biggest, baddest, and ugliest scandals from our 10 years in the business of covering business schools. And because we had trouble narrowing the list down to only 10 stories, we’ve included two dishonorable mentions, too! Enjoy!
Call him “The Wolf of the GMAT.”
For more than two and a half years, Lu Xu would walk into test centers from Toronto to Miami with a fake passport or driver’s license and take the test that most prospective MBA students take: the Graduate Management Admission Test. Sometimes, Xu would arrive in a bad wig and with a female name. Other times, he would impersonate his clients just by walking in exactly as he appears today, except a few years younger.
Xu’s scores on behalf of others would typically reach 750 out of the highest possible score of 800, putting someone in the 98th percentile of all test-takers in the world.
Along with four other men and a woman, Xu and his friends sat for a total of 590 exams from January 2001 to July 2003. But it all came crashing down in 2004 when Xu was indicted in a scam to defraud business schools. On his own website under the title “GMAT Hero,” Xu acknowledges that New York State investigators and the Federal Bureau of Investigation confirm that he had taken the GMAT and the GRE 212 times in that two-and-a-half-year period alone – roughly once every four or five days. Xu, however, had been taking the test for other people for nearly six years by the time he was caught.
Ten years after his indictment, Xu spoke with Poets&Quants and told his story.
World domination through telemarketing and kickbacks? Hult International Business School has long had a dubious reputation for the quality of its programs, but by 2014 its voracious recruitment campaign had turned it into the largest graduate business school on the planet, with enrollment dwarfing that of major players, including IE Business School in Spain and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Hult officials make no apologies for their recruitment strategies, pointing to how quickly they had managed to build up a strong brand — about a decade since it was purchased by Swedish billionaire and education advocate Bertil Hult, reorganized and renamed in 2003. While Hult remains somewhat of a laughingstock on Internet chat forums, it’s difficult to assess its impact on students because graduates are reluctant to sling mud at an institution that appears on their resumes.
But the most controversial thing about Hult, as P&Q documented six years ago, is its heavy reliance on recruiters to fill its student ranks: In our 2014 story, looking back on 18 months of data, we found that 98% of Hult’s students came via a staff recruiter. Even more alarming: Hult’s agent contracts specify that for each student enrolled, the agent receives 10% of the student’s first-year tuition beyond any in-house scholarship or loan. In a follow-up story in 2018, Confessions Of A Hult Student Recruiter, we reported on an “Ex-Employee of Hult International Business School” who posted juicy details to Reddit about how the school finds and closes would-be students for its MBA, Executive MBA, and other master’s programs in business.
At first, the process seems common and innocent enough. Not unlike other schools, Hult tracks people that complete the TOEFL and GMAT. Then the leads are split into markets by regions of the world, including Europe, Asia, the U.S. and South America and then the cold calls begin and are made by a staff of people who spend their entire days on the phone.
“Closing isn’t done in one call,” the poster added. “First we call to make sure the number is correct, the individual could fit studies in their schedule, and most importantly that they have some way to bring forth the ca$h needed ($20K-$40K depending on the program). Then, after having assessed all these needs (test scores not being a priority of course) a description is made of how amazing the school and its program are, and an excuse to have another call is set up (‘so that you can discuss with your family,’ ‘so that you can do the math/speak with the bank/etc,’ or the best one ‘at a time where we’ll have more time to speak.’).”
The allegations set off furious questions — prompting a response from the school.
“It sounds like a disgruntled former employee has shared some doubts about our stats which is of course unfortunate, but we can’t expect all members of staff to be familiar with the rigorous, standardized process surrounding rankings and accreditation,” said Markus Mandl, Hult’s chief marketing officer. “The fact that we are experiencing continued success in both our ongoing accreditations process as well as in the premier rankings of business school programs is a testament to the positive impact of our unique approach to global higher education.”
See the rest of the Top 10 Biggest Scandals of the Decade, as well as a couple of dishonorable mentions, on the following pages.