Four years after the Fox School of Business admitted that it reported false data to a major national ranking for online MBA programs, former Dean Moshe Porat will finally face a jury of his peers.
Porat’s federal trial begins Tuesday (November 9) with jury selection at the Eastern District of Pennsylvania District Court in Philadelphia. Several current and former Temple University employees are expected to testify, including as many as eight current staffers, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer report. Poets&Quants’ founder and Editor-in-Chief John A. Byrne is expected to be called as a government witness in Porat’s trial this week.
The trial refocuses national attention on Temple, which launched an investigation in 2018 after news of the scandal broke. The report’s findings led to Porat’s firing and a class-action lawsuit by former MBA students.
Porat is accused of orchestrating a scheme that knowingly submitted false numbers to U.S. News & World Report in order to climb in the magazine’s online MBA rankings and, in turn, attract more students — and thus more tuition.
Porat’s attorney, Michael A. Schwartz, declined to comment when Poets&Quants contacted his office. However, Porat has argued that Fox scapegoated him, and he blames his former staffers for submitting false data to the national ranking. In a July 20 case filing reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Swartz summed up the case this way: “The question in this case is whether submitting inaccurate information to U.S. News & World Report is a federal crime under the wire fraud statute? It is not.”
A SCANDAL EIGHT YEARS IN THE MAKING
The saga began in 2013 when Porat sent Marjorie O’Neill (then Fox’s finance manager) and two other employees to Washington, D.C., to meet with U.S. News about concerns with the school’s ranking for online MBAs. That year, Fox ranked a disappointing 30th, according to previous reporting by Poets&Quants. According to the federal indictment in the case, O’Neill returned from that meeting with two vital bits of information: One, Fox’s online MBA program didn’t rank higher because fewer than 75% of its applicants (12 of 48 incoming students) submitted GMAT scores; Two, U.S. News did not audit school-submitted data for its rankings.
From then on, Porat effectively closed the circle of people charged with reporting data to the magazine. That circle included himself and two close subordinates: O’Neill and former statistics professor Isaac Gottlieb.
Following the meeting with the magazine, Fox’s rankings would improve substantially, including a ninth place finish in 2014. In 2015, O’Neill reportedly told Porat that the school’s percentage of new students with GMAT scores had fallen to just eight of 70 entrants (11.4% of the new cohort), well under U.S. News‘ 75% threshold. If, however, Fox told U.S. News that all 70 students had been admitted with a test, Fox would get 100% credit for its class average and would climb in the rankings.
“Report it that way,” Porat allegedly told her.
That year, Fox scored a three-way tie for first place, sharing the top spot with Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. It scored first in the next three U.S. rankings. Enrollments soared.
“Leveraging its top rankings from U.S. News, Temple was able to increase its online MBA enrollment by an impressive 57% to 546 students from 351,” Poets&Quants noted in a 2018 rankings article that raised skepticism about Temple’s “claim” that 100% of its students submitted test scores for admission.
POETS&QUANTS HIGHLIGHTS DUBIOUS RANKING
In its 2018 article, Poets&Quants noted that Fox claimed that 100% of its students submitted test scores, even though the tests were not required for admission. That article was read out loud in a dean’s meeting with several administrators expressing concern about the implications.
Shortly after the meeting, and despite initial objections by Porat, Fox reached out to U.S. News to claim it had made clerical errors in its data reporting. 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.
U.S. News kicked Temple out of its 2018 ranking altogether, moving the school to “unranked” status. Temple fired Porat in summer 2018 after he refused to resign, and Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro opened a probe into the case just a few days later. A grand jury officially indicted Porat this spring. (Porat is still a tenured professor at Temple, earning an estimated $300,000 per year.)
The scope of the fraud shocked many in the business school community. “That was a big surprise,” one rival dean told Poets&Quants in 2018. “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. ”
EX-ADMINISTRATOR EXPECTED TO TESTIFY
Marjorie O’Neil – the school’s former finance manager who prepared the data set for the rankings – pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in May and is expected to testify against Porat as part of a deal with prosecutors. In her plea, she admitted to aiding Porat in falsifying the rankings data that helped propel Fox School of Business to the top of the rankings. O’Neil faces up to five years in prison for her part in the scandal.
Gottlieb, the former statistics professor at Fox, also pleaded guilty and faces five years in prison. He has so far not agreed to testify. He reverse engineered U.S. News ranking criteria in order to help Fox figure out how to score higher.
If convicted, Porat faces up to 25 years in prison. The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.
More About The Temple Rankings Scandal
How It Happened: Anatomy Of A Business School Rankings Fraud
Jones Day Investigation: Temple Dean Sacked Over Ranking Scandal
MBA Rankings: Why Business Schools Are Willing To Cheat