As students and faculty return to Main Campus this week, they will find that the Fox School of Business looms over Liacouras Walk.
The school will soon complete its expansion into 1810 Liacouras Walk, a $49 million project that includes a skywalk and an additional floor atop the historic building.
But inside those buildings, the school’s administration is being turned upside down. And Temple University, not just Fox, will have to foot the bill for incoming legal fees, a university spokesperson told The Temple News earlier this month.
The school was found to have knowingly submitted years of falsified data to the U.S. News & World Report, leading its program to the No. 1 slot in the Online MBA program and other high spots for six other graduate degrees. Moshe Porat, who held the position of dean since 1996, was asked to resign by President Richard Englert and Provost JoAnne Epps in July.
Now, the university is spending hundreds of hours on “data integrity” efforts. The school is undergoing two ongoing national and state investigations: one by the state Attorney General Josh Shapiro and another by the United States Department of Education. More than 30 Fox MBA students are suing the university, arguing the value of their degrees has been diminished.
There was a rankings-focused culture in the dean’s office that caused this, an independent report by international law firm Jones Day found. And it was paying off.
The Fox School raised the most money of any other school. It was the highest-ranked school on campus and the fastest-growing. Its graduate programs doubled in the four years the school submitted falsified data, according to data compiled from university fact books. It expanded into 1810 Liacouras Walk and added a satellite campus in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, to accommodate its highly ranked and growing Online MBA program.
Now, the university may face millions of dollars of legal fees and possibly have to pay back some students’ loans if investigators deem the school misrepresented itself to prospective students.
The Temple News analyzed a rankings-focused culture at the business school, how rankings affect student decision-making, investigations’ impact on education cost and the university’s push for data integrity.
Financial impact on Temple
While the university has not totaled any costs it has incurred thus far from legal and investigation fees, it could be responsible for repaying students’ federal loans, dependent on the outcome of the U.S. Dept. of Education investigation.
“Ultimately, the university will bear the cost for all obligations arising out of this situation, inclusive of professional fees and other costs,” university spokesman Brandon Lausch wrote in an email to The Temple News.
University officials hope that funds set aside for legal fees will cover the incoming costs from the investigations.
Each school and college at Temple has its own centralized budget, which means every dean acts as their school’s financial officer, fundraising and managing money for projects. Therefore, if Fox were responsible for the costs on its own, it could tank the school’s whole budget, dependent on the outcome of the investigations.
“It’s far too soon to estimate the financial impact,” said Ray Betzner, a university spokesman.
Still, the university can’t not guarantee at this time it won’t have to dip into other schools’ money to pay the costs. Historically, the university makes internal cuts to its central administration when dealing with financial hardships.
Six deans across the university told The Temple News that they did not expect any ongoing capital projects to be affected by the Fox investigations, nor any hiring freezes. They added that they’d been informed as much as the rest of the Temple community on the investigation status.
Amanda Griffith, an economics professor at Wake Forest University, said if Temple does have to pay any settlements or give back any money, it would be costly. Griffith studies how rankings and institutional spending affects students.
“It depends on how egregious the misuse of money,” she added. “It’s quite possible it could be [millions].”
“What is clear is that Temple makes the quality of a student’s educational experience a top priority,” Betzner said. “That’s true at Fox and across the university. It is a commitment that will not change.”
How the Fox School got here
The Online MBA program began in 2009 under the direction of Porat and Darin Kapanjie, a statistical science professor and the program’s director. The school’s interim dean Ron Anderson replaced Kapanjie earlier this month with Bora Ozkan, an assistant professor of finance, in the midst of the rankings investigations.
The program was cutting-edge, the school boasted at the time. It offered Fox faculty as instructors, instead of adjunct professors that online programs across the country usually used.
It used a WebEx feature that was ahead of the technological curve for business schools, allowing business professionals to pursue an MBA from the comfort of their homes. WebEx is an online conferencing tool used to host weekly lecture interactions and a weeklong stay on Main Campus, all included in its nearly $70,000 price tag, The Temple News reported in April 2009.
Several years later, the school became wholly rankings-focused, which an independent review by law firm Jones Day found to perpetuate as a “culture” within the dean’s office.
Fox first received a No. 1 ranking from U.S. News & World Report in 2015, meaning the first set of data was falsified in 2014, Jones Day found. The U.S. News & World Report requests schools self-report accurate data, but does not independently verify its accuracy.
“At Fox, we take rankings really seriously,” Kapanjie told The Temple News in January 2015 after the school received its first No. 1 ranking. “So to be ranked No. 1 for an entire program, it’s huge. … I’m just on Cloud Nine right now.”
“We are all proud when we are successful in rankings,” Porat told The Temple News in November 2015.
Porat could not be reached for comment.
Kapanjie said he was unaware that there was misreporting going on in the Online MBA program and was not involved in the misreporting, but the school’s upheaval gave him “a good time for a change.”
“I’m really proud of the program and everyone involved in the program,” he said Monday. “It’s an amazing program, and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of such a great team of people.”
“We didn’t do things based on the rankings,” he added. “We did them…for what’s good for students.”
Rankings and student choice
Students, even those who are business professionals entering graduate programs, consider rankings as “a measure of reputation,” Griffith said.
Undergraduates sometimes make their decisions based on rankings of graduate-level programs, too. It’s likely if a student knows they want to pursue a master’s degree, they’d want to align themselves early with the school, Griffith added.
But students and their families aren’t the only ones looking at rankings: so are employers, she said.
“If an employer sees that Temple is going up in the rankings…, they’ll say, ‘We should hire those students,’” she added.
Griffith said she’s not surprised students have sued the university.
“Now they realize things are not quite as good as they thought,” she said. “The reputation of the business school is going to falter.”