Another MBA Rankings Scandal? Or A Disgruntled Staffer’s Airing Of Dirty Laundry?

Rutgers Business School

The email to Rutgers Business School Dean Lei Lei had to set off all kinds of alarm bells.

It was written by a disaffected human resources manager who had been in conflict with the school for more than two years. The manager, Deidre White, alleged that Rutgers was creating bogus temporary jobs for graduating MBA students to improve its rankings. Described by some colleagues as “a disgruntled employee, who is a complainer and mopes around a lot,” White claimed that the school used a temp agency, Adecco Employment Services, Inc., to hire the students so Rutgers could inflate the employment rates it reported to ranking organizations.

Her accusatory email, moreover, was sent on March 21, a mere ten days after the former dean of Temple University’s business school was sentenced to a jail term of 14 months for his role in a well-publicized rankings scandal that involved submitting falsified data to gain higher rankings for several of its business degree programs.

‘Your Colleagues Do Not Take Fraud & Misconduct Seriously’

“While the investigation into my complaints of discrimination and retaliation drag on, I want to reiterate my concerns how RBS (Rutgers Business School) conducts its business,” wrote White, who earned $73,693 a year at Rutgers. “I am very, very concerned that, despite my best efforts, you and your colleagues do not take fraud and misconduct seriously. After the recent criminal sentencing of the Temple dean, one would think that RBS would operate to the letter of the law. In my view Rutgers has manipulated data to inflate the school’s ranking. Adecco is a complete sham, and you know it. I don’t see how Rutgers can use a temp agency to circumvent the situation where students do not find jobs. When is the fraud going to end? I will not tolerate any retaliation either. Please tell me how you are going to take steps to rectify the fraud and disclose the truth. There is no need for another investigation – you need to come clean on all of this. I will await your response.”

On Friday (April 8), White filed a lawsuit against the school, the dean, and several other administrators, charging that the business school fraudulently burnished its rankings by creating temp jobs for no other reason than to make it appear as if a greater number of MBA graduates were getting full-time jobs. White further claims that Rutgers used more than $400,000 from the university endowment to fund “the sham positions and to issue a kickback to Adecco for engaging in the scheme.” She is seeking reinstatement of her employment, along with back pay and benefits, as well as punitive damages and all attorneys’ fees.

In issuing a statement on the lawsuit, Rutgers did not dispute the allegation. “As a matter of policy, we won’t comment on the specifics of the litigation,” according to the statement. “We will say without equivocation, however, that we take seriously our obligation to accurately report data and other information to ranking and reporting agencies. The Rutgers Business School strictly follows the MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance guidelines in submitting MBA statistics and similarly follows the appropriate guidelines in submitting undergraduate statistics.”

About A Half Dozen MBA Grads Have Been Temps At The School  

Rutgers Business School Dean Lei Lei

White’s lawsuit contains emails and other data to support her claims that MBA grads were temporarily employed by the school after their graduation. But not much more than a half dozen grads were placed in various departments at the school, including marketing, development, procurement, and alumni relations. Most were hired for six-month stints, although one MBA graduate, Krunal Bhakta, a former pharmacist from India, has now been with the school in a contract marketing role for nearly four years. He graduated with his MBA in 2018 and has several superlative recommendations on his LinkedIn profile from colleagues. From 2018 to mid-2020, Rutgers paid Bhakta $160,570 for his work, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit mistakenly claims that the school achieved higher rankings from the Financial Times as a result of the alleged fraud. In fact, the FT only puts a 2% weight on the employment rate three months after graduation to compute its ranking of MBA programs. Employment rates at graduation and three months later are factored into the ranking calculations of the U.S. News & World Report ranking, accounting for 21% of the ranking. In the ranking year in which White alleged the impropriety, Rutgers’ MBA program fell 14 places in U.S. News to rank 58th in 2019. This year, the school’s MBA program placed 45th best in the U.S. News survey.

White would not receive an immediate response to her email to the dean. So just a few days later on March 24, she would write yet another email.

‘The Silence Is Deafening’

“Dean Lei,” stated White, “the silence is deafening. I have not received a response from you regarding the below email. I can only assume that, rather than address my concerns, you are busy attempting to whitewash the fraud and retaliate against me yet again. Well, I consider your inaction another form of retaliation. I will escalate this to the appropriate parties. Thank you.”

Two days later on March 26th, Dean Lei Lei acknowledged receipt of the email and said that she would forward the former employee’s claims “to the appropriate university office.”

Then, on March 28th, an investigation by the university’s Office of Employment Equity into White’s complaints of discrimination and retaliation found them to be unwarranted. The office stated that White’s complaint was “attenuated,” contained “some illogical” claims and that the school “provided many non-discriminatory reasons” for the personnel decisions that impacted White’s employment.

Lawsuit Provides No Evidence That White Raised Concerns About Temp Hires Early On

In her lawsuit, White argues that the school’s refusal to hire support personnel or approve overtime for other staffers made it difficult for White to perform her duties. She also claims that the school retaliated against her after she took a medical leave related to Graves Disease, an autoimmune disease. White alleges that her supervisor “screamed, berated, and belittled” her  for struggling to complete university initiatives that White claims had “nothing to do with her core job responsibilities.”  Rutgers, according to the lawsuit, told White that she failed to take on leadership tasks, lacked strategic direction, and did not complete tasks in a timely manner.

In September of last year, for example, Melissa Riveria, associate dean of administration and finance at the business school, asked White to oversee a virtual staff retreat. White claimed that the request was another form of retaliation “and an attempt to orchestrate her exit…The additional workload affected Plaintiff physically and mentally, and it exacerbated her disability/medical condition.”

Finally, after Rutgers sought a replacement for White, she filed a formal complaint with the Office of Employment Equity in January of this year, claiming discrimination and harassment. 

White’s subsequent lawsuit provides no evidence that White raised her concerns about the alleged rankings manipulation before March of this year just before the OEE rejected her claims. Yet, White says that she attended a meeting on June 5th of 2018 at which “the scheme to manipulate employment data in order to improve the business school’s ranking” was discussed.

Emails Show High-Level Concern Over Jobs For MBA Graduates

The immediate reporting on the lawsuit focused almost entirely on White’s accusations of rankings fraud. “Rutgers hired unemployed MBA students directly by placing them in sham positions through (a) ‘temp-agency,'” according to the lawsuit. ”This was a blatant effort to give the impression of a higher overall full-time employability rating with third parties and to deceptively bolster defendant Rutgers’s ‘ranking’ with crucial media outlets, such as U.S. News & World Report. Defendants intentionally reported false data and made misleading claims in marketing materials, falsely asserting the unemployed students were gainfully employed in full-time MBA-level jobs with a third-party company.”

If anything, the lawsuit shows high-level concern to gain employment for the school’s MBA graduates as well as the integrity of its data reporting to ranking organizations. In an email dated Aug. 10, 2018, on the placement of members of the MBA Class of 2018, Dean Lei Lei notes that it “looks like the number of still-seeking is now down to 17. This is a very impressive result given the large number of FT MBAs (109) and the large number of F1 visa students who have graduated this year. Thanks for your hard work and dedication toward serving our students. Meanwhile, please also keep in mind that, among the 92 students who have been placed with FT jobs, we do have few (6?) students hired by Addeco to fill urgent temporary work needs at Rutgers/RBS. I am not familiar with the placement data reporting process. However, if the temporary hiring should be disclosed to the ranking agency, please do so to avoid any misunderstanding. The reputation of RBS and our integrity are more important than anything else.”

Dean Vera, assistant dean and director of Rutgers’ MBA Office of Career Management, assures the dean that the hires meet the standards for reporting employment stats. “Regarding the Adecco hires, it is my understanding that these are contract positions with the potential of leading to a full-time position.If that is the case, the Standards state that we count them as employed,” wrote Vera.

Another adminsitrator named Manish Kumar also agreed. “At Rutgers to hire for a FT position we have to go through open search and ROCS,” the person wrote. “Of course, if theses Adecco employee perform well, RBS will give them full consideration during search process which could potentially lead to their hire.”

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