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Temple’s business school is ready to ‘close this ugly chapter’ after its former dean is convicted in rankings scandal

Fox leadership no longer focuses on rankings and has overhauled the procedures for submitting submissions. With new programs and an emphasis on the student experience, Fox has moved on, its dean says.

Outside of Alter Hall’s Fox School of Business at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa., on Thursday, Dec., 2 2021.
Outside of Alter Hall’s Fox School of Business at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa., on Thursday, Dec., 2 2021.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

The dean of Temple University’s Fox Business School saw the news alert Monday afternoon: His predecessor had been convicted of manipulating the school’s college rankings in an unusual academic scandal that has played out for four ugly years.

Ronald Anderson yelled to his colleagues, several of whom testified for the prosecution in the case against Moshe Porat. They gathered outside his office.

“It was like 1,000 pounds were lifted off my shoulders,” said Anderson, who took over when Porat was fired in 2018. “It was that cathartic for us. ... Now we can close this ugly chapter and continue to move this school forward.”

» READ MORE: Former Temple business school dean guilty in rankings scandal fraud case

During the trial, fresh details emerged about the rankings scandal that unfolded at Fox. A string of employees took the stand to explain how Porat had cowed them through bravado, lies, and intimidation — even brushing off a discussion about the accuracy of the numbers so he could enjoy a champagne toast about Fox’s high ranking.

“You nauseate me,” one colleague testified she told him at one point.

Porat, 74, had remained a tenured professor drawing a $316,000 salary even after his removal as dean. But he resigned two days after the verdict, the university said. His lawyers have also sought to drop a defamation suit he filed against Temple. And soon Porat’s sixth-floor office will be cleaned out.

He is to be sentenced in March on conspiracy and wire-fraud convictions. Porat, facing up to 20 years in prison on the most serious charge, seems to be facing at least some time behind bars. Two other Fox employees who helped him embellish the numbers have pleaded guilty and are to be sentenced, too.

“I’m glad that it’s over,” said Virginia Roth, Porat’s executive assistant for 22 years who now works for Anderson. “We’ve got a lot of things to be very proud of that we accomplished in the past four years, and we’re building on that.”

She told the jury that she had tried to stop an email touting a ranking based on false information but that Porat had angrily ordered it to be sent anyway.

Fox, which enrolls about 7,200 undergraduate and graduate students and employs under 500 faculty and staff, is a different place today, its employees say. The school has overhauled how it collects and submits rankings data, making sure the information is thoroughly checked by reviewers from both inside and outside Fox, Anderson said.

“What happened back in those years, it would be damn near impossible for it to ever happen again,” Anderson said.

Rankings, once of major importance to Fox leadership, have taken a backseat. Anderson said during an interview that he didn’t even know where the school ranked on one of the U.S. News & World Report measures. The focus now is on the students and educational innovation, research, and an inclusive culture, he said.

“Rankings are nice and it’s great to be ranked well, but it’s not the goal,” Anderson said. “It should be a byproduct.”

There’s a new center on ethics, diversity, and workplace culture. The school also is offering free college classes to low-income Philadelphia public high school students.

Undergraduate students studying on the first floor of Fox last week barely seemed aware of the court case, and those who were said it had not shaken their faith in the school.

“Personally, it doesn’t really affect me,” said senior Aaron Douangsouri, 21, of Lancaster. “I love it here.”

Still, there’s no doubt that Fox has taken a beating. Applications for its various M.B.A. programs have plummeted almost in half — from 548 in 2018 to 228 this year.

The school’s online M.B.A. program was No. 1 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report for four straight years when the school was submitting false data. It is now ranked 100th out of 293.

About a quarter of the ranking is based on what peer schools say, which was affected greatly by the scandal, Anderson said.

“That’s going to take a while for us to rebuild,” he said.

Before his lies became apparent, Porat, who headed the business school for more than two decades, was a campus hero to many. He was credited with boosting Temple revenue by millions of dollars, growing enrollment, and was rumored to be a candidate for the next president. It all unraveled after an online trade journal in January 2018 noticed something funny about Fox’s report — a hard-to-believe figure for what share of its students had taken graduate exams before admission.

Despite bitter resistance from their boss, several employees seized upon the trade journal’s account to blow a whistle. Soon more errors were discovered, the school’s program was removed from the rankings, and a university-commissioned investigation found Fox in some cases “knowingly” submitted false information.

A number of state and federal probes ensued and Temple paid out millions in legal settlements, including writing checks to former students who said the scandal had devalued their degrees. A year ago, Temple estimated it cost $17 million to clean up the mess.

For Debbie Campbell, one of the employees who stood up to Porat in 2018, the last few weeks were stressful “but relieving,” she said, “to be able to say this is what really happened.”

Campbell, Fox’s senior vice dean and a two-time Temple alumna who has worked at Temple for 30 years, told jurors how she objected when Porat wanted to drink that toast for the No. 1 Online M.B.A. ranking, even knowing there was a problem with the data. She said she’s glad the trial is over.

“Now we can focus on the work,” she said.

The process of rebuilding trust among students, alumni, and donors continues, Anderson said.

Anthony Seeton, professor of strategic management, said he would be relieved to attend conferences where no one asks him what’s happening with the former dean.

“Everything that went on in this trial and what brought us to this point, it had absolutely nothing to do with the quality of education that our students receive,” Seeton said.

Aubrey Kent, senior associate dean who also testified, called the verdict an “important vindication for many individuals at Fox who had been saying and doing the right things for a long time.”

Anderson made the same point. He acknowledged much of the news coverage of the trial was difficult to read.

“But there’s been one good thing to come out of all of this,” he said, “and that is watching my colleagues stand up to do the right thing.”

Anderson said the comment that hurt the most during the trial came when Ibrahim Fetahi, who received an online M.B.A. from Fox, told the jury he chose the school because of its high ranking, but added: “In my mind, I paid for fine dining and I got McDonald’s.”

Anderson said he had a rebuttal: “It’s not McDonald’s. They’re getting filet mignon.”