A warning for deans who play college rankings

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The federal government did what many would have considered unthinkable yesterday: it indicted a former dean of a business school and two of his subordinates for allegedly cheating on a college ranking.

The US Attorney General in Philadelphia has charged Temple University’s ousted Fox School of Business dean Moshe Porat with one count each of conspiracy and wire fraud for his role in one of the most great filing scandals of all time. He also charged a former professor of statistics at Fox, Isaac Gottlieb, and a former chief financial officer, Marjorie O’Neill, with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

If found guilty, Porat faces a possible maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release and a fine of $ 500,000. Gottlieb and O’Neill each face a possible maximum sentence of five years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release; and a fine of $ 500,000.

It took several years for a team from the FBI, the Office of the Inspector General of the US Department of Education, and the Postal Inspection Service to unravel the fraud. The deception would ultimately cost Porat his $ 600,000 a year job as dean, destroy the careers of two subordinates, lead to years of investigations, lawsuits, fines and headlines that would tear the reputation of the business school and college, and would cost Temple. a minimum of $ 17 million in “reclamation costs”. He can now put Porat and two of his associates in jail (see Anatomy of a Business School Filing Fraud).

These are hefty penalties for playing a series of US News & World Report rankings on online MBA programs, part-time MBAs, and undergraduate business education. But as government official after government official after another made clear, the game that led Fox to rank number one in its online MBA program for four consecutive years from 2014 to 2018 has deceived and won some. hurt a lot.

“Moshe Porat knew that improving the ranking of MBA programs would make Fox more competitive, attracting more students and more dollars,” said Lilian S. Perez, deputy special agent in charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia division. A declaration. “Faking school data was one way to do that. But countless candidates, students and donors have made big decisions, financial decisions, based on the lies at the heart of this alleged conspiracy. This is widespread and widespread fraud, for which those involved must be held responsible. “

Porat, now 74, strongly denies any wrongdoing, saying Temple University wants to make him a “scapegoat” for the fraud he blames on his subordinates. “Dr. Porat has dedicated forty years of his life to serving Temple University, first as a faculty member, then as dean of Fox Business School, and he has done so with distinction, ”said the Porat lawyer Michael A. Schwartz in a statement. “He is anxious to defend himself against these accusations and to clear his name.”

The very detailed indictment, however, reveals a concerted plan to play up the ranking that began as early as 2010 when Porat renamed its ‘ranking committee’ to a ‘strategic communication group’ because he didn’t think it was. it was good to have a group dedicated exclusively to boosting the ranking of the school. In 2013, he sent Marjorie O’Neill and two other employees to Washington, DC, to meet US News to express their concerns that the school’s programs were rated too low.

O’Neill, according to the indictment, would return to tell Porat that US News did not verify the data provided for the rankings as there was a lack of staff to do so. Porat then disbanded its internal filing group to keep tighter control over the data, designating O’Neill as the sole provider of the information to US News with the help of Professor Gottlieb.

From at least July 2014 to at least July 2018, Porat conspired with Gottlieb and O’Neill “to devise a scheme and device to defraud and obtain money and property from applicants, students and donors of Fox, by means of materially false and fraudulent means. claims, representations and promises ”, according to the indictment.

In the 2012-2013 academic year, only 12 of 48 incoming online MBA students had submitted a GMAT score, an admission standard that would result in US News to penalize the school in its ranking. O’Neill would later inform Porat that at least 75% of new students had a standardized test score, the school’s ranking would be affected.

The following year, when Fox enrolled 70 new students, only eight of whom had GMATs, O’Neill told Porat that if Fox instead reported that all 70 students had taken a standardized test, Fox would get 100% credit. for the school’s GMAT average and the program would rise in rankings, according to the indictment.

Porat, accused by prosecutors, told O’Neill to “report it this way.” In September 2014, the school communicated its statistics to US News and the inflated reporting saw Fox clinch a tie at three for first place in the Online MBA rankings for 2015.

Prosecutors said the rankings had become an obsession for Porat. Emails and depositions submitted in a defamation case the former dean filed against the university show that Porat has pressured his staff for years to find ways to increase the school’s ranking.

In 2013, Fox was able to reliably estimate its place on US News’ annual list, former directors said in their depositions. The results of the fraud saw the school’s online MBA program take top honors in 2014. In a champagne toast after his online MBA took first place for the fourth time, an administrator from Fox asked Porat if he was concerned about the validity. of the rank.

“Dean Porat said, ‘Well, if they haven’t caught it … what makes you think they’re going to get it now?’” Recalls Christine Kiely, Assistant Dean at Fox, in a deposition. “He seemed annoyed that we were talking about it – basically, indulging ourselves.”

Fudging data for rankings, of course, is nothing new. Over the years a number of schools have been caught playing them. But this is the first time the federal government has laid charges in a filing scam. The indictment amounts to a wake-up call to others who are tempted to change the numbers in their favor.

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