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The former Temple University dean behind the rise and fall in reputation of Fox School of Business was convicted this week in federal court, bringing some closure to a ranking scandal that shook higher education.
Ex-dean Moshe Porat was found guilty on two counts: wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, on charges related to a scheme that falsely boosted the school’s position on the much-revered lists published in U.S. News and World Report. For four years, due to the falsified data, Fox’s online MBA program was ranked No. 1 nationally. It currently sits at No. 100.
The jury took less than an hour to reach a verdict on Porat’s guilt. The conviction is thought to be the first time a university administrator has been criminally prosecuted for twisting college rankings.
How did it all go down — and what happens next? Here’s a quick recap.
Who is Porat and what did he do?
Bala Cynwyd resident Porat, 74, was dean of Fox Business School for over 20 years and once a potential candidate to become the university’s president.
He was fired as dean in 2018 when it was discovered he and co-conspirators misreported data to earn a better ranking, but he’s still on staff at Temple as a tenured professor.
Details of the hustle: Fox sent in data that represented 100% of its incoming online MBA students as having submitted graduate testing scores on their applications. It was later revealed that 19.6% of students entered their scores.
College ranking behemoth U.S. News and World Report penalizes online MBA programs if fewer than three-quarters of applicants submit a score, because it makes it difficult to properly get representation of the incoming class. Some of the stats that can get warped by this underrepresentation are student debt accumulated after enrollment and average GPA.
Did the tweaking work?
The falsified figures landed Fox’s online MBA program at No. 1 spot in U.S. News rankings for four years, from 2015 to 2018. Fox’s part-time MBA program climbed from No. 53, reaching a zenith of No. 7 in 2017.
Having the top program in the nation brought in millions of tuition dollars from students and donors. Temple online MBA program’s enrollment increased 57%, according to business school media outlet Poets & Quants. Porat boasted about high rankings in marketing materials and filled Philadelphia with billboards, according to prosecutors.
Student Ibrahim Fetahi is one of those students drawn to Fox’s online MBA program because of its rank. “I paid for fine dining,” said Fetahi in his testimony at the federal trial, “and I got McDonalds.”
How did news of the scandal break?
Word that Fox misrepresented data first made waves in January 2018 after the online MBA program was dropped from the U.S. News’ national list.
Temple hired Jones Day law firm to investigate the matter, and the firm concluded Fox had misreported as far back as 2014.
John Byrne, editor-in-chief of Poets & Quants, was one of the first to go public with suspicions. Back in the 1980s, he’d helped create the first national MBA rankings at Businessweek, and his (paywalled) story on Jan. 8, 2018, questioned the continued placement of Fox on top of U.S. News’ list.
After Byrne’s article came out, Fox staff started asking questions. Some refused to participate in the champagne toast Porat was having to celebrate another No. 1 ranking.
Porat initially refused to step down, but was removed of his deanship during summer 2018.
Did Porat have help?
The federal fraud indictment names Fox professor Isaac Gottlieb and a Fox employee named Marjorie O’Neill as participants in the rankings scheme. O’Neill was in charge of prepping the actual data submissions, and Gottlieb is said to have been the one who reverse-engineered the U.S. News criteria so Fox could cherry-pick what data to fake.
Both O’Neill and Gottlieb pled guilty earlier this year to wire fraud and each could face a maximum of five years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
What other lawsuits stemmed from the scandal?
Temple has paid out $17 million for settlements related to the scandal.
Former students of the online MBA class filed a class action lawsuit against the university and settled for over $5 million. Additionally, the university paid $700,000 to the U.S. Department of Education.
“This was not a victimless crime,” said U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams during the announcement of the 2021 indictment. “The victims are students, graduates, and donors to the Fox School as well as other universities and their students who were cheated out of their legitimate rankings.”
Porat himself sued Temple for defamation, seeking $25 million and claiming he was made a “scapegoat”, according to NBC10. The defamation case was put on hold due to the indictment.
What happens next?
Porat could spend a maximum of 25 years in prison and receive a $500,000 fine. A sentencing hearing has not yet been set, but when that happens, he’ll likely lose his position as a tenured professor — where he earns a $316,000 salary.
Temple’s online MBA program is ranked No. 100 on the U.S. News and World Report list.