New Temple Fox Dean: Ranking Scandal ‘Could Never Happen Again’

Temple University’s Fox School of Business in Philadelphia

One of the things emphasized at the trial was that Moshe Porat is the first university dean prosecuted and found guilty of lying to a rankings publication. Do you think his trial and 14-month prison sentence is a strong enough deterrent to other business school administrators who have maybe been more creative in the data they submit to a ranking outlet?

Anecdotally, I’ve talked to many other deans, and I can tell you it’s a deterrent. There are a number of deans that are shocked at the sentence. ‘You mean I can go to jail for submitting rankings information?’ So, yes, I do think it’s a deterrent for other people. The other thing that I’ve seen over my last three years here as dean, is the number of schools and deans that I talked to that now take greater care in submitting. You know, sometimes when you read those US News questions, they can be interpreted a couple different ways.

Yes, I was very surprised just listening to the trial testimony, how much interpretation goes into the ranking questions. It just seems ripe for abuse.

Exactly. When we have any questions now at Fox, we actually reach out to US News and ask them, ‘How do you want this interpreted?’ I think obviously, people are going to interpret the way that’s in their best light, but I think there’s probably a little bit less of that going on out there. I think the data that is getting submitted is probably of higher quality. I know it’s of excellent quality here.

At least anecdotally, I can say that other deans are much, much more aware of what’s going on in their rankings data. And they were surprised at the sentence. You know, for me, the 14 months and a quarter of a million dollar fine, that’s hard for me to gauge and I might not be the right person to ask because I’m the one that suffered through it all trying to rebuild and so forth. But I think 14 months is a pretty hefty sentence, and I think it probably sends a fairly strong signal to the outside world that you do want to be doing the right thing.

What was it like at Fox during the trial? There were some pretty salacious headlines coming out then.

During the actual trial, it was pretty tense up here. The people who were subpoenaed and testified, I had a lot of sympathy for them because they had known Porat really well, and I think they learned a lot during the discovery period as well. I think they were very disappointed in him as an individual, and I think they were disappointed that our governance structure fell apart that much. But for those who did step up, number one, I’m really proud of them for testifying because it was the right thing to do. But it was hard on them. You could see it from a personal perspective–they were losing sleep over this and they felt really bad about it.

You said that many people at Fox actually learned quite a few details from the scandal from the media reports of the trial. What was the most surprising thing to you?

The first time I became aware of this whole problem was probably in February or March of 2018, and the way it first was relayed to us was that it was a clerical error. As time kept rolling on, by the summer of ‘18, we learned that it was more than that. Then things kind of went dark here for a while because of the investigation.

So, as the trial was going on, and we were finding out that this was intentional–-it was not clerical, it was intentionally done–that was a hard thing to learn. Yes, it was done by a small cadre of people who are no longer here, including Parat himself, but it was intentional. Especially in academia, where we take truth and integrity and ethics so highly, hearing that was shocking, bewildering.

So you’ve had a couple of years as dean to start rebuilding Fox’s reputation, particularly with peer schools. Then the trial and sentencing come and you’ve got all this media attention again. What kind of work have you been doing to rebuild the trust, and what do you need to do in the future?

Like Warren Buffett said, ‘it takes a lifetime to build a reputation in about five minutes to destroy it.’ This reputation repair is an ongoing process. One of the reasons I am so glad that the trial and the sentencing are over is, first of all, it said it was a small cabal of people, but now it allows us to tell the story of what happened in that it wasn’t a systemic problem here. It really was a small cabal of people.

The other thing that’s important for me is, like in US News in particular, peer perception is sometimes up to 30 or 40% of your total ranking. So, if you didn’t know us before the rankings scandal, you certainly knew us after. Our peer perception is still not as strong as it used to be, and perhaps fairly so. So I spend a lot of time working with other deans and other schools, and AACSB, so they know what happened here, that we’ve corrected it, that we have systems in place, and that we have the governance in place that this could never happen again. I’m hoping that at the next deans conference and at AACSB that I can actually stand up and explain to the outside world what did happen here, because I think it would be healthy for the industry. I also think it would be really good for our reputation.

What kind of reaction have you gotten from donors and alumni?

You probably got a sense of it when you were at the trial and in Philly, but we’re Philadelphia’s business score, and we have 65,000 alums just at Fox, 300,000 at Temple. They love the school. They’re really really committed to it. They were hurt by this, there’s absolutely no doubt. But as part of the apology tour, I was out talking to them as well. I said, ‘We own this. We did it. I’m sorry.’ Again, authentic apologies go a long way to fixing problems.

In terms of donors, it’s been really interesting. Porat had a couple of really large donors who were very close friends and associates of his, and they’re gone. They left with him back in 2018. It’s just the way life falls, I guess. Having said that, our donor dollars are up compared to pre-Porat to right now by about 30%.

When you say pre-Porat, do you mean back when he started as dean or just before the scandal?

His last years as dean, say about 2016-2017, we’re up about 30% on that now, maybe a little bit more. But we’ve also changed the way we interact with our donors and our alums. It’s not transactional. I want my alums here. I want my donors to share, to come to class, to give their time and talent. And if we do that right, then we will get the treasure.

For example, in our full time MBA, students all have an executive coach mentor who is one of our alums. So, for at least one of them, they’ve got the CEO of Kendal Corporation, as their mentor. Another one has the CEO of LyondellBasell as their mentor. So this really makes a big difference both for the alums and the students. It’s a really symbiotic relationship.

What’s next on the horizon for Fox? What has you excited?

I think the biggest thing for me is that over the last year or so, we restructured our academic departments to be more focused on the future of work. One of the things that we’re very, very focused on here is data analytics, machine learning, AI. We’ve restructured the curriculum so that all undergraduates will get that, and we’ve started several specialty master’s programs focused around that, and now the MBAs are also getting much more exposure to that as well.

We’re starting down the road of virtual reality for our students as well. We’ve just finished our third or fourth course in the virtual reality space. It’s interesting, I did an interview with a couple students yesterday about that. It’s not like being on Zoom, and it’s not like being in the classroom. They liked it a lot because you have to be engaged. Those goggles are on your head, so you have to be engaged. I think VR is going to have a big place in the future of education.

From a research perspective, one of the things that’s been really important to me, is that Fox is always a research leader. We’ve always been excellent at it. But, I want the faculty to take the research a little bit further. So, as a finance professor, when I got my Journal of Finance article that used to be good enough. I just put it on the shelf and go on to the next article. Now, I want the faculty to do their TED talks, or podcasts about their articles. What that’s doing is it’s taking the research from the journal, and it’s putting it in the classroom. It’s putting in the boardroom, in industry, and it’s giving us a bigger research impact.

And, on the third pillar of culture, we have a really diverse population at Fox, primarily because we’re an urban school. We work a lot at inclusivity to make sure that students, the faculty, and staff have a voice at the table. That’s something that’s relatively new at Fox, so I spend a lot of time working on DEI initiatives. We established a new center called the Center for Equity, Diversity and Workplace Culture, and we’ve got a lot of Fortune 500 corporations on the board–people from Comcast and Walmart, and so forth. They have been incredible, incredible supporters.

And finally, there’s community engagement where I probably spend 50% of my time. When we talk about the community here, it’s the students, it’s the faculty and staff, but it’s also our neighborhood. We’re in North Philly, it’s a rough neighborhood. So we’re working more with neighborhood high schools and started some lifelong learning programs. One of them is called Before You Soar, where we bring kids in from the local high schools, and they get to take college classes. Once they start passing college classes, they believe they can do it, and we’re having incredible success. These kids often go on to apply to college, and whether they come to Temple or to Fox, it’s not really our concern. Our concern is about helping the neighborhood.

What do you want Fox to be known for?

Number one is that we are a place of great integrity and ethics. I don’t want anybody to think that the rankings scandal was a systemic problem.

Two, is we’re setting our students up for the future of work. When I look at the workplace, and I might be a little bit biased here because I’m a quant, but data is changing how business runs. The idea that Amazon does so many transactions per day, they probably know what you want to buy before you do. Our students need to become aware of this, how to use data, how to incorporate it into all the different disciplines.

A third part that’s very, very important to us is experiential learning. Many of my faculty are former executives. The idea of bringing experience into the classroom is great, but it’s even better when we can get our students out working with these executives. It changes them. You know, 30% of our undergraduates here are still first generation. One of the other things that we really want to do is give them, to the extent we can, is international experiences as well.

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

The Indictment: Former B-School Dean Indicted On Fraud Charges In MBA Rankings Scandal

MBA Rankings: Why Business Schools Are Willing To Cheat

Trial Coverage: Trial Begins For Ousted Temple Dean In Rankings Fraud Case

Day 1: ‘I Paid For Fine Dining, But I Got McDonald’s’: MBA Student Testifies In Rankings Fraud Trial

Day 1: ‘An Intimidating Man’ Who Made Staffers ‘Tremble’: Temple Vice Dean Testifies In Rankings Fraud Trial

Day 2: Ousted Dean: ‘Innocent Mistake’ Caused B-School To Be Thrown Out Of Ranking

Day 3: ‘Undergraduate Ethics Class’ Made Temple Fox Staffer Push For Correcting Inaccurate Data Reported To U.S. News

Day 4: Trying To Head Off An Independent Probe, Temple Fox Dean Tells Provost ‘If You’re In A Hole, Don’t Dig’

Day 5: Rankings Fraud Trial: Fox Dean Promoted Book In Wake Of Unranking

Day 6: Ousted Fox Dean Wanted App That Would Make His Messages ‘Disappear’

Day 7: Prosecution And Defense Rest In MBA Rankings Fraud Case

Verdict: B-School Dean Found Guilty Of MBA Rankings Fraud

Commentary: Arrogance Is What Ultimately Caused This B’School Dean’s Downfall

Sentencing recommendations: U.S. Seeks Up To 11 Years Of Prison Time & $5.8 Million From Ousted B-School Dean In Rankings Fraud Case

Sentencing: Moshe Porat, Former Temple Fox Dean, Sentenced To 14 Months In Prison For Rankings Fraud

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