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Temple’s former business school dean was sentenced to 14 months in rankings scandal fraud

Moshe Porat, who was fired as dean in 2018 when the scandal came to light, did not acknowledge he'd done anything wrong or apologize to any of the MBA students defrauded by his actions.

Moshe Porat, former dean of Temple University's Fox School of Business, speaks during a news conference at the Hilton hotel on City Avenue in Philadelphia in May 2019.
Moshe Porat, former dean of Temple University's Fox School of Business, speaks during a news conference at the Hilton hotel on City Avenue in Philadelphia in May 2019.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

The former dean of Temple University’s Fox School of Business was sentenced to 14 months in federal prison Friday for orchestrating a complex fraud scheme to propel his college to the top of national rankings and defraud its students and donors based on that unearned reputation.

Moshe Porat — who led the school for more than two decades until he was fired for the misrepresentations in 2018 — did not apologize or even acknowledge the students harmed by his crimes as he addressed the judge moments before his punishment was announced. Instead, he pleaded with U.S. District Judge Gerald J. Pappert to keep him out of prison so he could care for his ailing wife.

Pappert balked, calling Porat’s obsession with driving the Fox School of Business to the No. 1 spot “maniacal” and marveled that he had spent much of Friday’s hearing smirking and muttering under his breath.

“He still doesn’t think he did anything wrong. He has never accepted any responsibility,” the judge said. “He blames everyone else.”

The news that he would soon be headed to prison finally elicited a reaction from Porat. The 75-year-old former dean sighed, pressed his steepled fingers to his forehead, and bowed his head as his wife and adult children looked on dismayed from the courtroom gallery. Pappert gave Porat until May 9 to report to prison. His lawyer, Michael A. Schwartz, vowed an immediate appeal.

But it could have been far worse. Prosecutors had sought a sentence of up to 11 years and the judge shot down a government request to force Porat to pay $5.5 million to Temple in restitution.

Friday’s hearing closed a chapter on a scandal that has roiled Temple since its false rankings data first came to light in 2018 and has since cost the university millions in legal settlements with state and federal investigators and former students who sued, saying their degrees had been devalued.

“We respect the justice system and the judge’s sentencing decision made today,” the university said in a statement Friday. “With this chapter now closed, both Temple University and the Fox School of Business will continue to focus on delivering the best possible outcomes for our students.”

Porat’s sentencing hearing came three months after a federal jury concluded that he, along with two subordinates, had for years knowingly embellished the data they were sending on Fox’s students to the magazine U.S. News & World Report, allowing its online MBA program to achieve its No. 1 ranking for four straight years.

The distinction helped Fox more than double its enrollment between 2014 and 2017. During that time, Porat had been hailed as a visionary administrator — a rainmaker as adept at luring student tuition dollars as he was at courting deep-pocketed donors.

He now holds the distinction of being the first university administrator in the country to be criminally prosecuted for lying in the high-stakes battle for college rankings dominance.

Such lists, published by U.S. News and others, are the subject of fierce competition among universities as top spots can attract nationwide interest from potential students and millions in tuition dollars.

At trial, government witnesses — many of them Porat’s former employees — described him as a rankings-obsessed micromanager and a bully of a boss, pressuring his staff to do whatever it took to ensure the school reached those heights and stayed there.

Porat, meanwhile, maintained that it wasn’t he who deserved the blame but rather two administrators who worked under him — a notion the judge dismissed Friday as “insultingly silly.”

“Make no mistake,” Pappert said addressing the former dean. “You are here because of what Moshe Porat did, not because of what anyone else did.”

Either way, by 2014, Fox was routinely misreporting the selectivity of admissions to its online and part-time MBA programs, the GPAs of incoming students, the number who had taken graduate entrance exams, and the average amount of debt they incurred after enrollment.

Those lies propelled Temple’s online MBA program to No. 1 on the list. But as that success continued, others outside Porat’s inner circle grew skeptical of the school’s success.

In 2018, the website Poets & Quants published an article questioning some of Fox’s submissions. The story set off a panic among Fox’s assistant deans, who demanded that the school correct its misrepresentations immediately.

Porat, witnesses testified, not only resisted, he left the meeting at which that story was discussed to host a champagne toast celebrating a ranking he by then knew to be based on lies. In the weeks that followed, he continued to tout the distinction in marketing materials and downplayed the extent of the damage in conversations with Temple’s provost and president.

Since the university disclosed the misrepresentations, Temple’s online MBA program has dropped to No. 100 in U.S. News’s rankings.

Despite the harm Porat caused, more than 77 family members, friends, students, Temple professors, and staff wrote letters to the court extolling the good he had done during his decades-long career — a period that saw him, the son of Holocaust survivors, immigrate to the U.S. from Israel and rise from a professor of risk management to a dean who remade Fox and shepherded it through a period of massive expansion.

“There are two Dr. Moshe Porats,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney MaryTeresa Soltis. “There’s the Dr. Porat that the people here supporting him know. … And then there’s the Dr. Porat ... for whom all those accomplishments … weren’t enough.”

In addition to his prison sentence, Pappert ordered Porat to pay a $250,000 fine and serve three years’ probation upon his release.

“Going forward,” the judge said, “if school administrators focus less on how to massage and achieve numbers that can be plugged into calculations that can spit out rankings and more on the quality of academic performance and improving the student experience, students, families, and the schools themselves will be better off.”