A business professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City says the school should return a national award for the same reason it lost four years of Princeton Review rankings this week.
UMKC lost those rankings when an independent audit determined that officials at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management submitted inflated data in pursuit of honors to boost the reputation of its signature entrepreneurship program.
The same audit also found incorrect information in the school’s application for an award from the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship in 2012.
“There is a need to retract the USASBE awards based on the same logic that the dean and the chancellor used to justify” retraction of the Princeton Review rankings, Richard Arend said in an email sent Wednesday night to dean David Donnelly and other Bloch School faculty.
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Arend, a tenured faculty member at the Bloch School, has been highly critical of how the school has achieved several honors in recent years. And while university officials have long dismissed his criticisms as those of a “disgruntled faculty member,” a Kansas City Star investigation last year and a recent audit for the University of Missouri System found some of his claims to have validity.
As a result of that audit, the Bloch School lost its spots on the Princeton Review’s list of the top 25 university entrepreneurship programs for the years 2011-2014.
In an unprecedented move, the Princeton Review first stripped UMKC’s graduate and undergraduate entrepreneurship programs of last year’s rankings. Less than 24 hours later, the university asked that it also be taken off the lists for the three previous years.
The Princeton Review agreed, saying it was “extremely disappointed” that UMKC had falsified data.
Prompting both actions was the PricewaterhouseCoopers audit commissioned by the University of Missouri Board of Curators and released a week ago. It found that Bloch School officials fabricated and inflated numbers when applying for Princeton Review rankings in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
One of the three categories where erroneous information was submitted concerned enrollment.
Enrollment numbers also are at issue with the award that Arend would like to see the university return. The PricewaterhouseCoopers audit found that Bloch School officials exaggerated enrollment numbers by as much as tenfold when applying for USASBE’s 2012 National Model MBA Entrepreneurship Program.
Arend raised the issue with the president of the organization at that time, Tony Mendes, who has since joined the Bloch School faculty. A USASBE committee then investigated and “found no reasons to believe UMKC did not deserve its award,” the association’s current executive director, Patrick Snyder, told The Star this week.
He said he and his organization were aware of the PricewaterhouseCoopers audit “but do not intend on taking any other action.”
But Arend told fellow faculty members that it would behoove the school to return the award in light of UMKC chancellor Leo Morton’s statement this week on why UMKC should be removed from the Princeton Review rankings.
“Even one inaccurate data point is one too many,” Morton said in a prepared statement Monday, “and our integrity is paramount.”
Arend said the fact that UMKC inflated at least one data point obliged the university to return the 2012 USASBE award.
“Granted that the audit report clearly indicates that the enrollment statistic provided to USASBE to win the MBA award was inaccurate,” Arend wrote, “the USASBE award must be retracted.”
The undergraduate entrepreneurship program won a similar award in 2014 from USASBE, but neither Arend nor the audit addressed concerns with it.
UMKC did not respond directly to Arend’s demand that it return the 2012 award, issuing a statement instead that read:
“It’s important to note that Professor Arend is leaving out some vital context. His assertion reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the differences between a ranking in the Princeton Review and being designated a USASBE national model program.
“The USASBE honor is based primarily on the results of a real-time competition among teams who compete before a national panel of judges. The judges are looking for exemplary academic programs that reflect innovation, quality, sustainability, transferability and impact.”
Morton was at a curators meeting in Columbia and was unavailable for comment. Mendes could not be reached for comment.
Curator John Phillips of Kansas City said Wednesday that he wasn’t aware that bad data also had been submitted to USASBE. He said he intended to talk with Morton about how that might affect recognition the school has received from that national group.
If the university were to return the USASBE award, it would be one more blow to the reputation of the Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Bloch School.
Founded a decade ago, the institute has become a source of pride for the university and the Bloch School’s main benefactor, H&R Block co-founder Henry W. Bloch.
But as the entrepreneurship program grew in size, both in terms of students and programs, Arend began to question the rankings and awards coming its way.
An investigation published last summer by The Star substantiated many of those suspicions, sparking a call from Gov. Jay Nixon for the university’s Board of Curators to conduct a special audit.
The audit found that it was Michael Song, the former head of the entrepreneurship program, who instructed former managing director John Norton to submit the erroneous information to the Princeton Review.
Norton also submitted the inflated enrollment figures to USASBE, the audit said, although Song’s involvement is less clear.
The executive summary of UMKC’s 2012 submission for the MBA award said that “in 2010-2011, the entrepreneurship emphasis area grew 158 percent, from 224 to 577 enrolled students.”
Norton later told PricewaterhouseCoopers that 577 “was ‘probably wrong’ and that he could not calculate how that number came to be.”
Song told auditors the number of students seeking an MBA with an emphasis in entrepreneurship was actually 50 to 100 at the time.
Song no longer runs the entrepreneurship program but remains on the faculty. Norton is now an associate director. Neither was made available for comment Thursday.