The Perils Of Whistleblowing: Fired B-School Professor Fights Reputational Damage

The University of Missouri-Kansas City Bloch School of Management fired professor Richard Arend in December 2016. A year later he sued — and his lawsuit still hasn’t been heard in court

Richard Arend is trying to set the record straight. But what he calls a concerted effort by his former employer to spread lies about him is making that very difficult. 

So is the slow pace of the lawsuit he filed against the school that dismissed him.

Arend, a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship who has published two books and numerous academic papers, was dismissed in 2016 by the University of Missouri-Kansas City Bloch School of Management for what the school characterized as “a demonstrated substantial lack of fitness in the professional capacity as a teacher and researcher.” Arend, however, contends that he was fired for being a whistleblower. 

“No student has ever filed any formal complaint against me,” says Arend, now the LL Bean/Lee Surace chair in strategic management at the University of Southern Maine School of Business. “Although the University of Missouri System contends the dismissal is about a ‘lack of fitness,’ no evidence of any lack of fitness in research, teaching, or service was ever provided — and no witnesses from the Bloch School were produced by UMKC during their trial-by-committee.”

BLOWBACK AGAINST AN EFFECTIVE WHISTLEBLOWER

Richard Arend

Arend was promoted to full professor at the Bloch School in June 2013. His final dismissal appeal to the system was rejected by the school in December 2016. What happened between those dates is a lesson in the lengths a school will go to get rid of a tenured professor who can only be removed for “cause.”

In July 2014, the Kansas City Star published the first reports of what it characterized as a systematic and orchestrated inflation and falsification of data at the Bloch School that led to undeserved accolades, including a World No. 1 ranking in 2012 for research in innovation management from the Journal of Product Innovation Management and four years of top-25 rankings in entrepreneurship from the Princeton Review. One primary source for the newspaper’s award-winning articles was Richard Arend.

Arend’s whistleblowing was effective: The school was remonstrated by the Journal and stripped of its Princeton Review rankings. But Arend didn’t let up, calling for the school to return an award from the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship that he said also was awarded based on false data. 

As reported by the Star and later by Poets&Quants, Arend’s efforts to undo the unearned plaudits may have cost him his job. Shortly after the first reports, he says, the governor of Missouri ordered an inquiry; in November 2015, the school began the lengthy dismissal process. That involved “the usual internal kangaroo court committee hearings devoid of any due process like discovery or giving testimony under oath” — and it was prosecuted by the then-provost, “who held power over the faculty jury’s pay and promotions.”

Because he was tenured, Arend could only be dismissed for cause — and he insists that the school manufactured the cause to get rid of him. What UMKC cited as causes for the dismissal are flagrantly false, says Arend.

“The statements made by UMKC about my performance not meeting the standards of teaching and research were simply wrong,” he tells Poets&Quants. “I proved they did exceed those standards and that was not ever questioned. Instead, the committee was directed to other issues, mostly made up by the same people who allegedly perpetrated the frauds at the school. For example, lies about student complaints originated from Michael Song – the main faculty member I had blown the whistle on. UMKC knew this and did not inform the committee jury.”

“Similarly, when asked repeatedly by me during the internal hearing to provide any precedent for dismissal of a full, tenured professor at UMKC – so that the committee could have a reference point – the then-provost refused to provide any answer — and the committee never made her answer the question. Instead, they made their assessment without the use of any precedent.”

GLACIAL PACE OF LAWSUIT

In December 2016, the review committee at UMKC recommended dismissing Arend for ‘demonstrated substantial lack of fitness in the professional capacity as a teacher and researcher at the University.’ In 2017, Arend filed a lawsuit against the UMKC System in Jackson County Circuit Court in Missouri. The suit names the University of Missouri Board of Curators as lead defendant, with Song, a former professor and head of the Bloch School’s Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, also named as defendant. Song, who left in 2015 after admitting to falsifying data to boost the institute’s reputation, has since relocated to China.

But justice has not been swift for Arend. For over four years, his case has been mired in the courts, delayed first by the removal of a judge because of the actions of the then-provost to influence UMKC alumni against him because of the whistleblowing he had done, then by the reassignment of other judges, and finally by a continuance granted to the University of Missouri system attorneys for personal reasons. Then, last March, coronavirus struck. 

Currently, the case is slated to be heard in May 2021, but Arend fears that may not occur as scheduled because of backlogs. 

In 2017, when P&Q first reported on this story, UMKC responded to an emailed request for comment about the lawsuit with a written statement from their media relations department (predictably) denying he was dismissed for whistleblowing. “Dr. Richard Arend was dismissed for cause after a 10-person committee of his tenured faculty peers at UMKC determined he failed to meet important standards set by — and enforced by — faculty,” an unnamed person at the school wrote. “None of the numerous charges brought against Dr. Arend regarding his misconduct — and no part of the faculty committee’s recommendation leading to his dismissal — was based on his alleged whistleblowing.”

Reached for comment on the ongoing court case, the school responded with the following:

“We disagree with Dr. Arend’s claims and characterizations, a number of which appear defamatory, but we will not respond to them in detail, as they relate to matters that will be addressed in the litigation. We stand by the statements we provided previously in 2017 and note that much of the circumstances here have been addressed in public filings in the litigation.”

PROFESSIONAL COSTS OF THE CONTROVERSY 

Arend says the controversy cost him work before he got his current job at the University of Southern Maine, and he blames his former employer for knowingly publishing misrepresentative documents about him in violation of judges’ orders. In late October 2018 he was invited to fly to an interview at an Ivy League school for a named professorship, he says, “only to be disinvited when they read the slew of false documents posted (and hosted on university servers) by UMKC in violation of the judge’s order (and its own CRRs and state employee protections).” 

A top B-school in Europe also disinvited him around the same time, for the same reason, he adds.

“I was promoted to full professor at UMKC in 2013, which required excellence in research, teaching, service, and collegiality,” he says. “In 2014 came the KC Star stories. Then retaliation occurred, including the many lies of Song and others involved in the rankings scandals, which were then legitimized internally. 

“The real court trial will prove that.”

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