Just as Temple University’s Fox School of Business was trying to push the embarrassing 2018 rankings scandal into the past, ousted dean Moshe Porat put it at center stage again Thursday, alleging that he shouldn’t have been made a scapegoat for it.
On Thursday, Porat filed a lawsuit in Common Pleas Court against the university and its president, Richard M. Englert, and held a news conference at a hotel off City Avenue to address what he said were false accusations by Temple — that he personally ordered and directed the manipulation of Fox’s rankings data. The phony numbers incorrectly earned Fox a No. 1 ranking nationally by U.S. News & World Report for several years running.
“It genuinely pains me to take this step,” said Porat, 72, flanked by more than a dozen family members, friends, and supporters, including several former Fox employees. Porat wore a Temple and Fox pin on his suit coat. “I love Temple and the Fox School, and I truly believe, deeply believe, in their mission," he said. “Until now, I … have tried to negotiate in good faith.”
Temple on Thursday issued a statement saying it stands by its decision to remove Porat, which was bolstered by the findings of a university-commissioned investigation by an independent law firm.
“The university’s decision to remove former dean Porat was based on the comprehensive findings of the independent review conducted by the Jones Day law firm, a summary of which remains publicly available,” according to Temple’s statement.
“The Jones Day findings are compelling, and the university continues to stand by its decision. Dr. Porat’s allegations are meritless. Going forward, we will carefully review his statements made public today to determine any legal remedies the university may pursue.”
In his lawsuit, Porat pointed at other Temple coworkers and the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, a university-wide group that he said oversaw every department’s rankings submissions.
Porat’s suit also named a former lower-level Fox employee, Marjorie O’Neill, as the person responsible for submitting the data, as well as a worker who directly reported to her, retired senior vice dean Diana Breslin Knudsen, and other employees.
O’Neill’s phone number in Malvern is unlisted, and no one answered Breslin-Knudsen’s phone number in Downingtown.
Porat declined to take questions, but his lawyer did.
Asked who specifically was responsible for the breach and the motivation, the lawyer, Thomas A. Clare, said he and his client hope to get some of those questions answered with the lawsuit.
Porat claims reputational, emotional, and health damages, and is seeking $25 million. He was previously in settlement talks with Temple. He remains a tenured professor, currently on sabbatical, and collects a salary, Clare said. Clare declined to release the amount.
Outside observers say Porat’s strategy is risky.
“He was captain of the ship. That’s called leadership. My view is, sure he can do that [file a lawsuit], but he’s undermining his claim to be a leader,” said Eliot Ingram, CEO of Philadelphia-based Clear Admit, which advises MBA applicants on admissions
At Temple’s MBA program, like at most business schools nationally, rankings were important — so much so that billboards around Philadelphia advertised Temple’s No. 1 U.S. News ranking heavily. They have been replaced.
It’s hard to gauge the reputational effect of Porat’s lawsuit on Fox. Temple’s MBA program, which charged $60,000 to $70,000 a year, was a money-maker for the university, according to Temple’s student newspaper, the Temple News.
Porat is also mounting an aggressive public relations and rehabilitation campaign. On his lawyer’s website, Porat’s supporters were quoted with notes calling his ouster an “ambush.”
Arvind V. Phatak, a retired management professor at Fox, attended the news conference in support of Porat. He also wrote on the website of Clare’s firm, Clare Locke in Alexandria, Va.: “Moshe is known as one of the best business school deans in the globally dispersed business school community. I have some understanding of the process that culminated in the termination of the Fox School Dean. This event, as it unfolded, fits perfectly the dictionary definition of ‘ambush.’ … It is truly regrettable that a person who was 'our’ very respected colleague, one who has made significant and valued improvements to the Fox School, and to Temple University, was treated so shabbily.”
Still, Temple’s business school program is healthy, said Ingram. “Temple is a solid regional MBA. It’s still a high-quality program, and they will move past this."
As for Porat, “part of being an honorable leader is taking responsibility for what happens on his watch, whether he directly knew about or participated in the rankings fraud. Either way, his leadership brand is damaged, which is why leaders are expected to resign in these situations,” he said.
Temple has been successfully re-accredited, and aimed to turn the page by settling a class-action lawsuit late last year with Fox students for roughly $5 million.