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Are the rankings being rigged again?

The Rutgers University School of Business takes the US News & World Report ratings seriously. If you visit the Statistics and Rankings section of their website, you’ll find four points of pride listed for this year: No. 9 for Best Overall US Employment Results for MBA Programs, No. 12 for MBA Programs Supply Chain Management, No. 21 Best Public Business School in the US, No. 22 Best Public Business School (for part-time students). The Fountain of Honours: US News.

So business school and admissions experts in general were surprised by two lawsuits filed last week. An allegation that Rutgers discriminated against a human resources manager because she objected to the way the university calculated information about her class to US News. The lawsuit alleges that the university used an employment agency, Adecco, to place some of its MBA graduates in jobs at Rutgers to gain a higher ranking, because US News it does not allow business schools to count their own employees as graduates who have found employment. The other lawsuit is a class action lawsuit on behalf of students who enrolled in the MBA program, alleging that Rutgers managed to get them to enroll based on inflated rankings.

Rutgers denies the allegations.

“As a matter of university policy, we are unable to comment on the details of the litigation. However, we will say unequivocally that we take seriously our obligation to accurately report data and other information to rating and reporting agencies,” the university said in a statement. “We are confident in our process and procedures to accurately report to ranking publications. The Rutgers Business School team follows the guidelines set forth by the standards agencies, maintains control over our statistics, and reports information methodically.”

Rutgers added, “As a public business school, a fundamental tenet of our mission is to educate and prepare students for successful careers. Rutgers Business School invests heavily in the career resources offered to our students. Through our dedicated Career Management Office, we prepare students for career opportunities aligned with their goals, knowledge, and skills. We consider this one of our main differentiators as a business school. Innovations from our faculty, program and curriculum, case competitions, alumni mentorship, corporate partnerships and experiential learning projects help contribute to an exceptional business school experience for our students.”

as for US News, issued this statement: “In general and without commenting on any particular issue, US News takes cases of misinformation seriously. Our mission is to provide students with accurate and detailed data to help them in their search for schools. We rely on schools to accurately report their data and ask school officials to verify that data. We will declassify schools if they misreport data leading to an inflated ranking.”

Do you remember Temple?

If the Rutgers situation sounds familiar, you may be thinking of Temple University.

In December, Moshe Porat, a former dean of Temple University’s Fox Business School, was convicted of wire fraud for sending false data to US News for rankings. (He was sentenced to 14 months in prison).

Porat, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, “conspired and conspired to mislead the school’s applicants, students, and donors into believing that the school offered top-tier business degree programs, so they would pay the tuition and make donations to Temple.”

The jury took less than an hour to convict Porat, who was dean of the business school from 1996 to 2018.

Temple’s online MBA program was ranked #1 by US News for four years in a row, beginning in 2015. But that ranking was based on false information that all of Temple’s online students had taken the Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT. In fact, only 20 percent had. It turned out that in 2014, 2015, and 2016 (the three years prior to the most recent one for which Temple was ranked the best online MBA program), the university also reported that 100 percent of its students had tested for standardized admission. In the two years before that (when Temple hadn’t been the main show), the percentages were 25 percent and 33 percent, according to the website. Poets & Quantsthat reports on business schools.

Poets & Quants, reporting on Rutgers, suggested that the fabrications may have been less heinous than at Temple. “Not much more than half a dozen graduates were placed in various departments of the school, including marketing, development, acquisitions and alumni relations. Most were hired for six-month terms, although one MBA graduate, Krunal Bhakta, a former pharmacist from India, has now been at school in a contract marketing position for nearly four years,” the website reported.

What the suits say

The first suit is from Deidre White, a human resources manager at the business school.

The lawsuit says the system Rutgers devised worked. “In the first year of the scheme, defendant Rutgers was suddenly propelled, among other things, to ‘No. 1′ business school in the Northeast region,” the lawsuit says. “At every turn, Plaintiff has stood directly in Defendants’ path to illegality. When Plaintiff became aware of and exposed Defendants’ plan to falsify and manipulate post-graduation employment data, Defendants failed to investigate and remedy the fraud. Rather, in retaliation, they ignored Complainant’s complaint, further excluded Complainant from her department, attempted to cover up the conduct, and disparaged Complainant to employees and officials of her department.”

Here’s how the system works: Rutgers hires students from the employment agency, not directly, the suit says.

Included in the lawsuit are emails asking about this system.

A Rutgers official wrote to several others: “In the meantime, please also note that among the 92 students who have been placed in FT jobs, we have few (6?) students hired by Addeco. [sic] to fill urgent temporary job needs at Rutgers/[Rutgers Business School]. I’m not familiar with the location data reporting process. However, if the temporary contract must be communicated to the classification agency, do so to avoid misunderstandings. RBS’s reputation and our integrity are more important than anything else.”

Dean Vera, who directs the MBA career programs for Rutgers, responded, “Regarding the Adecco hires, my understanding is that these are contract positions with the potential to lead to a full-time position… If that is case, the standards state that we count them as employees.”

The lawsuit also claims that the unemployed students were counted as employed when they had not yet been offered the Rutgers positions by Adecco. “False and misleading data have artificially increased defendant Rutgers’ ranking,” the lawsuit says. “The presentation includes three years of information. Therefore, data submitted in 2018 impacts the 2019, 2020 and 2021 rankings.”

Additionally, the lawsuit includes emails from Rutgers officials discussing the Temple case.

A Rutgers professor sent an email saying, “I still do not believe that a conspiracy to ‘mislead US News readers’ constitutes a federal crime.”

White wrote to Lei Lei, dean of the business school: “I am very, very concerned that, despite my best efforts, you and your colleagues are not taking fraud and misconduct seriously. After the recent criminal conviction of the dean of the Temple, one would think that RBS would operate to the letter of the law. In my opinion, Rutgers has manipulated the data to inflate the school’s ranking. Adecco is a complete farce, and you know it. I don’t see how Rutgers can use a temp agency to get around the situation where students can’t find jobs. When will the fraud end?

The class action lawsuit (managed by the same law firm) is on behalf of an MBA student and everyone who has been a student in the MBA program since 2018. It is virtually guaranteed,” the lawsuit says. The second suit, at least for now, is similar to the first.

Charles J. Kocher, one of the attorneys working for the plaintiffs, said a class action lawsuit was “the superior and efficient way to resolve wide-ranging fraud.”

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