Whistleblower Case Ends With School Paying Prof $625K

Carlos Moreno/KCUR Kansas City

A professor who says he was fired for being a rankings whistleblower has settled the lawsuit he brought against his former employer — and received not only exoneration but a big payday, too.

Richard Arend, a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, was fired by the University of Missouri-Kansas City Bloch School of Management in 2016 for what the school characterized as “a demonstrated substantial lack of fitness in the professional capacity as a teacher and researcher.” But Arend consistently and adamantly contended that he was fired for being a whistleblower, having called foul on data submitted by the school for research and entrepreneurship rankings, and he sued the school in 2017.

More than five years later, Arend’s lawsuit was finally settled in March, with the Bloch School agreeing to pay its former professor $625,000 — and acknowledging that Arend was right about the faulty data used by the school to inflate its rankings.

‘NO STUDENT HAS EVER FILED ANY FORMAL COMPLAINT AGAINST ME’

Richard Arend is now a professor of strategic management at the University of Southern Maine School of Business

Arend and the Bloch School issued a joint statement announcing the settlement and agreed not to make further comments. However, Arend spoke to Poets&Quants at length about the case in February 2021.

“No student has ever filed any formal complaint against me,” Arend, now the LL Bean/Lee Surace chair in strategic management at the University of Southern Maine School of Business, said last year. “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.”

Arend, who has published two books and numerous academic papers, 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.

THE PERILS OF WHISTLEBLOWING

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, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon ordered an inquiry; it found that school officials had indeed inflated enrollment and program data submitted to the Princeton Review. In November 2015, the school began the lengthy process to dismiss Arend, which he said involved “the usual internal kangaroo court committee hearings devoid of any due process like discovery or giving testimony under oath.”

Because he was tenured, Arend could only be dismissed for cause — and he insisted that the school manufactured the cause to get rid of him. What UMKC cited as causes for the dismissal were flagrantly false, Arend said in 2021.

“The statements made by UMKC about my performance not meeting the standards of teaching and research were simply wrong,” he told Poets&Quants last year. “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.”

END OF A 5-YEAR ORDEAL

In a joint statement on the settlement, the Bloch School and Arend said that “UMKC acknowledges that Professor Arend did bring genuine problems and issues to the media’s attention. Further, UMKC acknowledges Professor Arend’s academic contributions to the University during his tenure at UMKC.”

The short statement ends simply:

“UMKC agreed to pay Arend $625,000 to settle his lawsuit. The parties thank each other for working together to resolve this matter and have agreed to not make further comment.”

DON’T MISS THE PERILS OF WHISTLEBLOWING: FIRED B-SCHOOL PROFESSOR FIGHTS REPUTATIONAL DAMAGE and ANATOMY OF A BUSINESS SCHOOL RANKINGS FRAUD

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