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‘Keep a lid on it,’ ousted Temple dean Moishe Porat said about ranking errors, according to testimony in his fraud trial

The testimony came during the third day of the fraud trial for the ousted business school dean, charged with leading a scheme to cheat on college rankings submissions.

Former dean of Temple University's Fox School of Business Moshe Porat leaves the federal courthouse Nov.10, 2021, as his trial for fraud in the college rankings scandal begins.
Former dean of Temple University's Fox School of Business Moshe Porat leaves the federal courthouse Nov.10, 2021, as his trial for fraud in the college rankings scandal begins.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

The conversation took place in a men’s room at Temple University in January 2018, just after a champagne toast to celebrate the business school’s Online MBA being ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report for the fourth consecutive year.

The two men talking were William Rieth, then senior director of graduate enrollment at Temple’s Fox School of Business, and then-dean Moshe Porat. Rieth discovered through a news article that morning that the ranking was based on inaccurate information — which he had twice tried to have corrected months before, to no avail.

“Hey, Will, I understand that there have been some data issues that were brought to light this morning,” Reith said Porat told him. “I just don’t want people getting worried about this. If we can keep a lid on it, kind of keep it to ourselves, that would be great. So just don’t go out talking about it broadly to your team.”

» READ MORE: Ousted Temple business dean managed through "fear and intimidation' says one administrator in first day of Moshe Porat’s fraud trial

Rieth’s testimony came during day three of the fraud trial for the ousted business school dean charged with leading a scheme to cheat on college rankings submissions for financial gain and prominence, harming students and donors who fell for the lie. If he is convicted, he could be headed to prison for up to 25 years on the most serious charge.

Also on Tuesday, another employee, Deborah Campbell, currently Fox’s senior vice dean, testified that Porat initially resisted when she urged during a dean’s meeting that Temple call U.S. News to report the error.

And prosecutors, through testimony by FBI agent Brian Coughlin, showed how enrollment rose at Fox following the increase in rankings. Enrollment in the Online MBA program increased from 133 to 336 in 2018, while enrollment in the part-time MBA, which rose to No. 7, grew from 109 to 194.

That meant nearly $40 million more in tuition for Temple, prosecutor Mark Dubnoff said, using calculations provided by Coughlin. Once the rankings dropped, enrollment also declined, to 111 in the Online MBA, and 89 in the part-time MBA.

» READ MORE: Under a national spotlight, former Temple business dean faces fraud trial in college rankings scandal

Rieth, who now works for eCity Interactive, a Philadelphia-based digital design and marketing agency, testified that he initially identified errors in the U.S. News submission in September 2017.

The errors had to do with the Online MBA program’s selectivity and the percentage of students in the program who took the GMATs, or Graduate Management Admission Tests. He testified that he emailed Marjorie O’Neill, the employee in charge of preparing the submission, that 100% of students did not take the GMATs, as she had indicated, but rather only 42 of 255. He copied his supervisor on the email.

When O’Neill sent a later email that included the submission, the information still had not been corrected, Rieth testified. It still falsely showed 100% of students took the exams. He said he told her again, reiterating his concerns and pointing out that the corrections had not been made.

He did not follow up after that, which defense attorney Michael A. Schwartz questioned.

“I’m comfortable with the steps I took,” Rieth replied.

But when he learned the errors hadn’t been corrected, he testified, “I was pretty upset, pretty saddened.”

Schwartz, who has argued that the blame for the false data lies with other employees, not Porat, asked Rieth if he questioned O’Neill’s competence. Rieth said that he found O’Neill to be “diligent” and “bright” but that he did question the accuracy of the rankings submission.

Campbell, who has worked at Fox for 30 years and got both her undergraduate degree and MBA from Temple, recalled for jurors the meeting where administrators told Porat about the data error.

That morning, Poet&Quants, a news site that covers business schools, had reported that 100% of Temple’s Online MBA students took the GMAT, which she and other employees knew couldn’t be true. The majority don’t take the test, she said.

Porat brought the discussion to a close because the Online MBA students, who come to campus for a week during the program, were just a few floors up waiting to participate in a luncheon where the No. 1 ranking would get a champagne toast.

Campbell said she objected to continuing with the celebration.

“We should not be going upstairs and celebrating until we knew what happened,” she said she told those at the meeting.

Porat overruled her, she said, saying: “It’s all set up. We’re going.”

After the luncheon, administrators met again with Porat, she said. She insisted Fox had to report the error.

“You’re getting upset,” Campbell said Porat told her. “There’s no reason to get upset. We don’t need to do anything.”

After 10 minutes, Porat agreed to notify the magazine, she said.

“He continued to be mad at all of us for quite some time,” she said.