The View From Here | In Search of Openness

Moshe Porat
Moshe Porat (Photo courtesy of Temple University)

When I first heard about the scandal in which U.S. News and World Report took the drastic step of dropping Temple University’s prestigious Fox School of Business from its rankings of online MBA programs, I had a nagging suspicion that one man was responsible: Moshe Porat.

So I wasn’t surprised when several months later — as announced in a July 9 email from Temple President Richard M. Englert — Porat stepped down as dean of the university’s business and management schools.

Make no mistake: Porat’s fall is a huge blow for Temple, for the Fox School and, because the Israeli-American academic has been an active pro-Israel voice, the Philadelphia Jewish community. But in capping a recent history of massive expansion at the business school — an era during which Porat was not only the public face of the Fox School, but was in many ways synonymous with the institution’s brand — the dramatic plunge in the school’s standings and the institutional stock of Porat was entirely predictable.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Porat once offered me advice when I was choosing between graduate school programs, urging that I pursue an MBA instead of attending law school, and stressing the strength and prestige of the Fox School program. In the end, I decided on studying at Temple’s Beasley School of Law.)

There is no escaping the fact that Porat, 71, is a force of nature.

Even Englert acknowledged that without the 22-year tenure of Porat, the moneymaking Fox School — which boasts an enrollment of 9,000 students and 200 full-time faculty, as well as a gleaming building on Temple’s North Philadelphia campus — wouldn’t be where it is today. But that includes the school being a defendant in a lawsuit brought by an MBA student alleging that he and others were defrauded after it became clear that test data reported to U.S. News was woefully inaccurate.

U.S. News said at the time that it dropped the Fox School from its online MBA listings, where the school had enjoyed a No. 1 ranking for the past three years, after discovering that far from the 100 percent level reported by the school in terms of incoming online MBA students submitting GMAT or GRE scores, only 19.6 percent actually did so. That matters, because U.S. News penalizes schools where fewer than 75 percent of students submit such scores prior to admission.

Temple quickly engaged the services of the Jones Day law firm to conduct an independent investigation. According to Englert, the report’s conclusion, announced at the same time as Porat’s departure, was that the business school “knowingly provided false information to at least one rankings organization about the online MBA. In addition to the misreporting of the number of students who took the GMAT from 2015 to 2018, the average undergraduate GPA was overstated, and there were inaccuracies in the number of offers of admission as well as in the degree of student indebtedness.”

Jones Day blamed Porat’s “personal management style” and the “rankings-focused strategy” he pursued, which had the effect of making the Fox School’s online MBA program appear more selective than it was.

Among the sins Englert cited in his email was Porat’s disbanding of a longstanding committee whose job was to ensure the accuracy of data used in the determination of rankings. Porat did not respond to several calls from the Exponent’s staff for comment.

What the rankings debacle highlights is the danger of equating success with an endorsement of a leader’s strategy. Porat is not the first school administrator to either choose retirement or be shown the door after a peek behind the curtain reveals a leadership style emphasizing personal power over transparency and accountability.

On the same day as Porat’s departure from the Fox School deanship, Abington School District Superintendent Amy Sichel announced her decision to walk away from a $319,714-per-year position that topped all superintendents in Pennsylvania.

Sichel’s resignation, offered without explanation in an email to stakeholders, came five months after she engineered the whopping $25 million gift by billionaire Stephen Schwarzman to renovate and rebrand the Abington Senior High School he graduated from in 1965. When announced, the donation was hailed as historic, but details of the transaction landed Sichel in the crosshairs of parents angry at some of the odd concessions the school made and the way in which the deal was inked outside of the glare of public scrutiny.

The Schwarzman deal ended up being revised after the outcry, but further reporting by The Philadelphia Inquirer unearthed an email Sichel sent to Schwarzman apologizing for what she called the actions of “thoughtless people” in the community.

As with Porat, Sichel appeared to favor secrecy as the means to achieve success, although it bears emphasizing that Sichel has not been accused of the type of fraudulent conduct Porat is accused of encouraging. The point here is not so much the mechanics or even the motives; it’s the necessity of openness in governance — whether in academics, business or politics — even at the risk of sacrificing the hoped-for payoff. The end never justifies the improper means employed to get there.

Over at Temple’s Fox School, a group of students are now questioning the value of their MBA degrees, while in Abington, a school board is trying to regain the trust of the parents it serves. But the rest of the country is far from devoid of other examples of charismatic leaders neglecting ethical constraints and other checks on their power.

These stories teach us that ill-gotten gain tends to be momentary and, in the long run, exposes entire communities to harm. 

Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]


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