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U.S. News & World Report

What began in January 2018 as a small scandal involving false data submitted to U.S. News & World Report for rankings escalated Friday: the former dean of Temple University's business school "conspired and schemed to deceive the school’s applicants, students, and donors into believing that the school offered top-ranked business degree programs, so they would pay tuition and make donations to Temple," according to the Justice Department.

Moshe Porat, the former dean, remains on the Temple faculty. He faces federal charges of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of wire fraud. If convicted he faces up to 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Porat was once a powerful figure at Temple. From 1996 until 2018, he was dean of the Fox Business School. He also was the dean of Temple’s School of Sports, Tourism and Hospitality Management from 1998 until 2018. When he was a dean, Porat earned "nearly $600,000," according to the indictment. His current salary is $316,000, although the Justice Department says "he has not taught a class or published any scholarly research since 2018."

Two others at the Fox school were also indicted: a former professor named Isaac Gottlieb and a former administrator named Marjorie O’Neill. They each face one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which could be punished by five years in prison.

The three of them worked together "to submit false information about the school’s online MBA and part-time MBA programs to U.S. News & World Report in order to inflate Fox’s rankings in the annual U.S. News surveys of top OMBA and PMBA programs," the Justice Department press release said. Among other things, the conspirators "allegedly agreed to provide false information to U.S. News about the number of Fox’s OMBA and PMBA students who had taken the Graduate Management Admission Test; the average work experience of Fox’s PMBA students; and the percentage of Fox students who were enrolled part-time because it was believed that better numbers for these metrics would result in better rankings for the programs."

In the case of Temple's online M.B.A. program, the business school originally reported that all its students submitted test scores. In fact, only 20 percent had done so.

After the U.S. News announcement, the website Poets & Quants, which focuses on business schools, started digging around in the data Temple had reported to U.S. News for the previous (No. 1) rankings.

It turned out that in the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 (the three years prior to the most recent for which Temple was ranked best online M.B.A. program), the university had also reported that 100 percent of its students had taken standardized admissions tests. In the two years prior to that (when Temple hadn't been the top program), the percentages were 25 and 33 percent.

"The indictment charges that the scheme was successful," the Justice Department press release said. "Relying on the false information it had received from Fox, U.S. News ranked Fox’s OMBA program Number One in the country four years in a row (2015-2018)."

The indictment states that there is a "direct correlation" between U.S. News rankings and online enrollment at Temple. When it was ranked No. 28 (in 2013), it enrolled 70 students in the online M.B.A. program. In 2015, when the program was ranked No. 1, it enrolled 198 students. The next two years, Temple enrolled 253 and 356 students -- based on the false information Temple submitted.

The change in Temple's behavior, the indictment charges, came after a 2013 meeting between O'Neill and two other Temple officials with U.S. News officials. At the meeting, U.S. News officials said that they did not perform audits on the online M.B.A. data submitted because they "lacked the resources to do so." Subsequently, the practice of submitting false data took off, the Justice Department said.

When U.S. News noticed the problem in 2018, Porat told a Fox school employee, "it's not like U.S. News is a federal agency," and that he wished "you all would stop being so ridiculous," or something similar, the indictment says.

“The success of the higher education system in the United States relies not only on the academic excellence and rigor of the programs offered, and not only on the aptitude and hard work of the applicants and students,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Williams, “but also on transparency and honesty about the system itself. Moshe Porat allegedly misrepresented information about Fox’s application and acceptance process, and therefore the student-body itself, in order to defraud the rankings system, potential students, and donors. His conduct, as alleged, undermines the integrity of the entire academic system and forever hurts the students who worked so hard for admission.”

Lilian S. Perez, assistant special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Philadelphia division, said, “Moshe Porat knew that burnishing the M.B.A. programs’ rankings would make Fox more competitive, bringing in more students and more dollars. Fudging the school’s data was a means to that end. But countless applicants, students and donors made big decisions, financial decisions, based on the lies at the heart of this alleged conspiracy. This was an extended and extensive fraud, for which those involved must be held accountable.”

Porat’s Response

Porat's lawyer released this statement in response to the indictments: "We are disappointed that, after cooperating with the government in its investigation, the United States Attorney’s Office decided to bring these charges, which Dr. Porat vigorously denies. Dr. Porat dedicated 40 years of his life to serving Temple University, first as a faculty member, and ultimately as dean of the Fox Business School, and he did so with distinction. He looks forward to defending himself against these charges and to clearing his name."

In 2019, Porat sued Temple for $25 million, charging that it had defamed him in various announcements about the rankings scandal. The suit charges that the university distorted the findings of an outside investigation, incorrectly described his attitudes about rankings and honesty, and essentially threw him under the bus. The suit is still pending.

Temple has not admitted wrongdoing by the university in the case. However, in 2019 it agreed to pay $4 million to those who are or were students in the online M.B.A. program and another $1,475,000 to settle claims of students in other M.B.A. programs and several other master's programs and one online bachelor's program in the business school.

"The settlement does not constitute an admission of liability," said a statement at the time from the university. "While the university believes that it could have ultimately prevailed in the litigation, Temple nonetheless chose settlement in the best interests of the university and its students."

It also paid $700,000 to the U.S. Department of Education to resolve complaints about the university's conduct.

The university released a statement about the indictments. "What we can say is that the ongoing discovery process in Porat’s defamation lawsuit against Temple in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas has uncovered facts previously unavailable to the university. This new information confirms Temple’s decision to remove Porat as dean of the Fox School of Business in July 2018. That evidence has been presented in the appropriate forum," the statement said. "Temple at all times has been transparent about its actions as they pertain to the Fox matter and has sought to protect the interests of our students, donors, and the university. For example, as part of broad-sweeping corrective measures, Temple has implemented a robust host of practices to ensure that data misreporting to ranking bodies will not occur again. These measures include establishing an internal data verification unit overseeing the entire university’s data submissions, facilitating reporting of malfeasance through online and telephone hotlines, retaining a third-party auditor for data submissions, and increased training, among many other measures."

Gottlieb did not return an email message seeking comment. O’Neill could not be reached for comment.

U.S. News declined to comment.

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