Temple University: Former dean convicted of fraud for using fake data to boost its national ranking

The former dean of Temple University’s business school was convicted Monday on charges of conspiracy and wire fraud for a scheme in which he and others used false data to boost the school’s position on the US News and World Report’s rankings, the US Attorney’s Office said.

Temple University: Former dean convicted of fraud for using fake data to boost its national ranking
© Tim Tai/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP Moshe Porat was the dean of Temple University’s Fox School of Business and Management from 1996 to 2018.

Moshe Porat, 74, was the dean of Temple University’s Fox School of Business and Management from 1996 to 2018. His federal trial began November 10, and jurors returned the guilty verdicts on Monday.

According to an April 2021 indictment, Porat conspired with Isaac Gottlieb, a statistics professor at Fox, and Marjorie O’Neill, manager of finance at Fox, to give false information to US News about Fox’s online MBA (OMBA) and part-time MBA (PMBA) programs. In particular, they falsely stated how many students took the GMAT, their average work experience and the percentage of students who were enrolled part time, the indictment states.

Gottlieb and O’Neill have both pleaded guilty to conspiracy and have not yet been sentenced, according to court records.

“Today, a jury reaffirmed that wire fraud is a federal crime even when perpetrated within the system of higher education in the United States,” US Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said in a statement Monday. “Moshe Porat misrepresented information about Fox’s application and acceptance process, and therefore about the student-body itself, in order to defraud the rankings system, potential students, and donors.

“This case was certainly unusual, but at its foundation it is just a case of fraud and underlying greed,” she added.

Attorneys for Porat did not respond to a request for comment.

The trial comes just a couple years after prosecutors arrested dozens of parents, college coaches and administrators in the sprawling college admissions scam known as “Operation Varsity Blues.”

In addition, the case highlights the enduring power of the US News and World Report college rankings, which attempt to turn the complex experience of higher education into hard and fast rankings. Over the years, these rankings have taken on a major role in how people decide where to apply, and the schools themselves have adjusted accordingly.

The Best Colleges rankings have long been criticized by higher education experts. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, former president of George Washington University, has called them a “racket” and said schools feel pressure to game the rankings.

“Just as athletes use steroids and gambling happens at Rick’s, colleges and universities succumb to their own set of pressures, including the desire to be on top in the rankings,” he wrote in a 2012 opinion piece for CNN.

In 2019, for example, the US News & World Report said the University of Oklahoma gave “inflated” data on its alumni giving rates for two decades, boosting its placement in several of their rankings. The university said it discovered the “misreporting of donations” in 2018 and provided the updated information to US News immediately afterward.

How the scheme worked

The scheme devised by Porat, Gottlieb and O’Neill was, for a time, remarkably successful.

Using the juiced numbers, US News ranked Fox’s OMBA program as the best in the country from 2015 to 2018, and Fox’s PMBA program rose in the US News rankings from 53rd in 2014 up to 7th in 2017. Porat used these rankings in the school’s marketing materials, and enrollment in the programs increased significantly, the indictment states.

And then it all came crashing down. On January 8, 2018, the website Poets & Quants published an article about the MBA rankings that noted suspiciously that Fox claimed all of its OMBA students had taken the GMAT. Fox administrators and officials saw the article and, in a meeting with Porat and others, became concerned because they knew that data was inaccurate, the indictment states.

Despite that meeting, Porat gave a champagne toast touting the school’s latest No. 1 ranking, and a few hours later sent out a marketing email boasting of the latest top ranking, the indictment states.

Two weeks later, US News announced it would remove Fox Business School from its OMBA rankings due to the data issue. Temple hired the outside law firm Jones Day to investigate the incident, and Porat, Gottlieb and O’Neill gave “false or misleading” statements to the investigators, the indictment states.

The Jones Day review found that Fox had misreported data for its OMBA program since at least 2014, sometimes intentionally, and had similar misreporting in a number of other graduate programs. In 2019, Temple and the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General agreed to a settlement creating $250,000 in new scholarships for students.

On its website, Temple University has set up a dedicated FAQ section explaining the scandal and how the school has responded. University spokesman Stephen Orbanek also issued a statement on the guilty verdict.

“We respect the justice system and the jury’s decision in this matter. The evidence presented at the trial speaks for itself but is not representative of Temple or the overwhelming majority of the thousands of educational professionals serving our students,” Orbanek said. “This is an unhappy moment for our students and alumni, but our focus remains on delivering the best possible outcomes for our students.”

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