True, it’s a cautionary tale for business school leaders on why cooking the books is not only unethical but can have dire consequences.
Porat will be sentenced in March 2022 for his part in a scheme to catapult Fox to the top of MBA rankings by the US News & World Report and could face 25 years.
But more than that, in beautiful irony, the former dean of a business school that teaches MBA participants about leadership has become his own case study on leadership failure for MBA candidates everywhere.
Why did the Temple MBA rankings fraud happen?
So how could this happen at an institution of higher learning, of all places?
While I don’t have any intimate knowledge other than what I’ve read in the media, I have worked in business schools and was the person who submitted school data to a highly respected and influential newspaper for their annual ranking.
So, I understand the high stakes involved. (I also know what it’s like to double check figures a gazillion times with the tremendous fear of sending in something incorrect!)
Ultimately, management education is supposed to develop strong leaders with solid decision-making skills. But that didn’t happen here.
To fully appreciate the irony, let's start with Fox's mission:
The Fox School of Business transforms our students into responsible professionals and leaders through engagement with Fox communities committed to lifelong learning, service and the advancement.
The dean and his implicated colleagues were not responsible professionals. They were reckless.
I think much of this ‘case study’ can be explained by culture. I’ve worked in the corporate sector too. I’m debating whether to write this next sentence because I don’t want it to come across the wrong way or suggest something unsavory, but here it goes…
I never felt like I was part of a cult when I worked in the corporate sector.
I have felt this way at times in higher education.
That’s because there can be so much school spirit that goes beyond football teams. And this unchecked passion has the potential to cloud judgement in an institutional bubble.
Some personal identities get conflated with the institutional brand. I've seen this happen. And that’s what I think occurred here: If Fox is number one, that means [insert person’s name] will be number one.
3 lessons for MBA candidates from the rankings scandal
So, what lessons can MBA candidates learn from the Temple Fox rankings scandal?
First, there are multiple case study themes at play here: organizational integrity, marketing at all costs, reputation management, and choosing an ethical approach to competitive forces.
Second, there are three things anyone considering an MBA should keep in mind:
1. There will ALWAYS be difficult colleagues and bosses in the workplace.
And an MBA (even one ranked #1) will not solve that problem. The curriculum will sharpen YOUR leadership skills but how are you going to work with toxic individuals who are self-centered, manipulative, and unethical?
It’s easy to take an ethics class and say that you will just ‘say no’ when faced with a tough situation, but what will you do if your spouse is unemployed, and you have three kids to feed? What actions can you take throughout your career to give you options if you find yourself unfortunately working with a boss who puts you in a compromising situation?
2. Trust your gut.
If you think something fishy is going on in your organization, it could very well be. You wouldn’t expect a dean of a nationally respected business school to be convicted of wrongdoing. But then again, many of the biggest corporate scandals start off as something of a surprise.
You’ve already heard that one of the biggest benefits of the business school experience is the network, but take time to cultivate relationships beyond the transactional job search.
Here’s some great advice in a blog from a current Booth MBA student about taking a diversification approach to friendship in business school. Make sure you have ‘high-beta’ relationships when you need emotional support.
3. Stay humble.
An MBA will help you advance to a position of influence, but you must remember that it’s not all about you.
Don’t look for validation from external sources whether that’s a premier position in a media ranking or getting hired at the most prestigious firm. Find that fulfillment through a purposeful career and positive relationships. Only then will you come out on top.
Porat and his colleagues may have enjoyed the champagne popping, congratulatory calls, and celebrity status that come an announcement of that coveted number one position in the US News and World Report, but now things aren’t looking quite so cheerful.
Barbara Coward (pictured above) is a business school industry expert, internationally-acclaimed admissions consultant, and a Top Ten LinkedIn Voice of 2020.
The main image in this article is credited to Audrey, Wiki Takes Philadelphia, and was used under this license.