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Karen Symms Gallagher

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California submitted data to U.S. News & World Report on its Ph.D. students enrolled in education programs from 2013 to 2021 but did not submit information on its Ed.D. students, despite specific instructions from U.S. News to do so from 2018 on and informally before then.

As a result, USC had higher ratings than it would have had otherwise, including a ranking of 11th last year.

A report on the problems, prepared by the law firm Jones Day, was released Friday.

Jones Day places most of the blame for the false data on Karen Symms Gallagher, who was dean of the education school from 2000 to 2020 and currently is a faculty member at the school. Her name doesn’t appear in the report, but she was dean at the time the report questions the behavior of the school’s dean. Gallagher did not respond to a request for comment, but the report quoted the dean as saying that the rankings should be based on Ph.D.s, not Ed.D.s.

“From at least 2013 to 2021, although the school submitted Ph.D.-only data in response to survey selectivity questions (such as acceptance rates, average GPAs, and GRE scores of the entering doctoral class), the school did submit some Ed.D. data in response to other questions about its doctoral programs (such as enrollment and degrees earned),” the report said.

“The most recent past dean of the school (‘Dean 1’) [Gallagher] directed the omission of Ed.D. data from the school’s doctoral selectivity responses at least since 2013 through 2020,” the report said. “Dean 1 understood that excluding the Ed.D. data resulted in a higher ranking for the school than if the data had been included.”

Gallagher was awarded USC’s top honor, the Presidential Medallion, in 2020, for “those who have brought honor and distinction to the institution.” The USC press release specifically cites the way “the school attained and sustained its position” in the U.S. News rankings under her leadership.

Angel Horacek, a lawyer representing Gallagher, told the Los Angeles Times that during Gallagher’s “years as dean, the school focused on educating the educators. And the students that came to USC went out into the community to do good.” He did not answer specific questions about what she did with regard to rankings.

The current dean of the school of education, Pedro A. Noguera, continued the policy of not submitting Ed.D. information in 2021, “after being informed that the school historically did not include Ed.D. data, even though the survey required its inclusion.”

However, a PowerPoint presentation Noguera received from staff members included a reference to the “Temple lawsuit,” in which Moshe Porat, former dean of the Fox Business School at Temple University, was convicted of wire fraud for submitting false data to U.S. News & World Report for rankings.

USC provost Charles F. Zukoski gets credit for reporting the situation. Noguera told him about the practice in December, as the university was submitting material for use in the 2022 rankings. The provost “instructed Dean 2 to report Ed.D. data accurately throughout the survey.” The provost also ordered the university to contact U.S. News and withdraw from this year’s ranking.

At USC, while the provost only learned that Ed.D.s were excluded from the data submitted in December, “the school’s practice of omitting Ed.D. data from selectivity metrics was no secret. For example, in 2012, Dean 1 informed the university’s then-vice president of admissions and planning … about the practice. Dean 1 also discussed this issue with the school’s leadership, including during at least one executive council meeting in 2018, which was later reported to the school’s Faculty Council,” the report said. “Other faculty and staff knew about the school’s omission of Ed.D. data too, including two senior faculty members … Not all of these individuals approved of the practice, and some did not understand or appreciate that U.S. News’s survey required the inclusion of Ed.D. data.”

And the report noted “the existence of irregularities in the school’s calculation and reporting of research expenditures” and “identified other potential data misreporting issues, such as issues relating to the exclusion of online Ed.D. programs, the designation of Ed.D. students as part-time, certain faculty-related metrics, and the school’s reporting of teacher job placement and retention statistics.” The report said that “based on U.S. News’s rankings methodology, some of these metrics may have affected the school’s U.S. News ranking and warrant further examination.”

Taking Responsibility

U.S. News did not respond to a request for comment.

Noguera sent a note to the education school on Friday, in which he said, “I want to be clear that I accept full responsibility for continuing the practice of inaccurately reporting data to USNWR during my first year as dean. Regardless of the circumstances of the pandemic and my personal situation at the time, it was and remains my responsibility as dean to ensure that the high academic standards and quality are maintained.”

He added, “I do not want to minimize the fact that the misreporting of data to the U.S. News & World Report has blemished our reputation. However, I do want to assure you that we will recover through excellence in teaching, research and service. The reality is that a ranking is not what makes USC Rossier strong. It is all of you.”

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