It was the scandal of the year. In early 2018, Temple University’s Fox School of Business admitted falsifying data to get the No. 1 spot in the annual U.S. News & World Report ranking of online MBA programs. In the end, the Fox School would lose its lofty rank, its reputation, and millions of dollars — and the school’s dean would lose his job. Today (December 12) the attorney general of Pennsylvania has announced a settlement with the school that Temple no doubt hopes will finally put the matter to rest.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a news release that the settlement includes $250,000 in new scholarships for students, as well as guarantees of reform in data handling, training for staff, and annual compliance assessments. Temple, which cooperated with Shapiro’s more-than-year-long investigation, formally admits that it used false reporting “intentionally and knowingly to boost the school’s rankings,” a practice that elevated the Fox School as the nation’s top online MBA program for several consecutive years, and used the ranking to attract prospective applicants.
“This behavior misled students, alumni, employers and the public about the quality and value of these Temple programs,” Shapiro said. “Temple University has accepted responsibility for its role in this conduct and has been proactive and cooperative in addressing it. Importantly, Temple University has agreed to terms that will ensure students and their families are making informed choices moving forward. It’s critical that students and alumni alike have confidence in the value of their degree or certification from Temple University or any other institution.”
RECAPPING THE SCANDAL: YEARS OF FALSE DATA WAS BEHIND FOX’S OMBA ASCENT
The scandal erupted in January 2018 when U.S. News tossed Temple’s No. 1 ranked online MBA program off its ranking after discovering that the school misreported critical data on its program. 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. As a result, Temple’s online MBA program, ranked first in the nation by U.S. News for four consecutive years, was moved to unranked status.
Sources say it was a whistleblower who caused Fox to go back to U.S. News to admit that it had “misreported” data for the ranking. In any case, it led to the decision by Temple President Richard Englert to hire Jones Day to conduct an independent investigation. It was clear from the start that there was more to it than a simple error in reporting data.
By early February, Temple had asked U.S. News to withdraw its submissions for every MBA ranking. By mid-February, one former online MBA student filed a class action lawsuit against Temple, alleging that the school submitted false data to U.S. News to gain its No. 1 standing.
The Jones Day investigative team interviewed 17 Fox employees and reviewed more than 32,000 documents. It concluded that, over the past several years, Fox had “provided U.S. News with inaccurate information across multiple data metrics that are part of the publication’s OMBA rankings methodology. And while Jones Day focused on information that Fox provided to U.S. News relating to the school’s OMBA program, the investigation revealed that Fox provided U.S. News with erroneous information relating to other programs as well. On certain occasions, Fox’s reporting of inaccurate information to U.S. News was done knowingly and intentionally for the purpose of improving or maintaining Fox’s standing in the relevant rankings. As Temple President Richard M. Englert wrote at the conclusion of the investigation, “It is my duty to report that the Fox School, under the leadership of Dean Moshe Porat, knowingly provided false information to at least one rankings organization about the online MBA. In addition to the misreporting of the number of students who took the GMAT from 2015 to 2018, the average undergraduate GPA was overstated, and there were inaccuracies in the number of offers of admission as well as in the degree of student indebtedness.”
So, in July 2018, Temple asked Dean Moshe Porat for his resignation. In May 2019 Porat sued the university for $25 million, saying he had been scapegoated. In July a judge rejected the school’s effort to have the suit dismissed.
Temple Fox’s online MBA remains unranked in U.S. News‘ most recent ranking; it is also unranked by Poets&Quants.
It was the same month that Temple fired its B-school dean that Shapiro announced his office would investigate Temple Fox over the scandal. In December of that year the school reached a settlement in the class action suit brought by MBA and other students, agreeing to pay $5.5 million; now Temple hopes the latest settlement will be an end to the ordeal.
As part of the settlement, Temple will establish and fund $250,000 in scholarships for Fox Business School students over the next decade, at $25,000 per year. The scholarships will begin in 2020. Additionally, the university has also agreed “to institute various policies, procedures, and trainings to ensure such misconduct never happens again,” Shapiro said in announcing the settlement.
Under the terms of the settlement, Temple is required, among other things, to:
● Reform its data aggregation, collection, inspection, verification, and submission practices. Temple must standardize the rankings data procedures for each school, college, and degree/certification program within its university and shall not submit any data unless it has been processed in full accordance with those procedures.
● Provide consumers with accurate information about the Fox School’s rankings history. If any prospective applicant or enrolled student requests any information about the rankings status and/or history of the affected Fox programs, Temple has an affirmative duty to provide the requestor with an information sheet in the form of a FAQ detailing Temple’s misconduct and the remedial measures taken to correct it.
● Maintain proper oversight and training of its employees. Temple is required to implement mandatory annual training in data integrity and ethical standards for all Fox Business School employees involved in the aggregation, collection, inspection, verification, and submission of data to rankings organizations. The university must also maintain an anonymous hotline for reporting the suspected falsification of student data.
● Perform annual compliance assessments. Temple must perform annual assessments to ensure compliance with the terms of the settlement, and these assessments must be submitted to the commonwealth within 30 days of their completion.