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Amid rankings scandal, Michael Song resigns from UMKC

University of Missouri-Kansas City business professor Michael Song resigned Friday. Earlier in the week, he taught a class in Bloch Executive Hall.
University of Missouri-Kansas City business professor Michael Song resigned Friday. Earlier in the week, he taught a class in Bloch Executive Hall. The Kansas City Star

Michael Song, the University of Missouri-Kansas City business school professor at the heart of a rankings scandal, has resigned, the school said Friday afternoon.

His resignation was announced after fellow faculty members at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management earlier that afternoon renounced all awards and recognitions received by the school’s entrepreneurship program during the decade Song was its head.

Song, 53, founded the Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in 2005 and stepped down from that post last year. He continued to teach at UMKC, where he was the third highest paid member of the faculty.

His resignation came two weeks after the Princeton Review stripped the university’s entrepreneurship program of top 25 rankings in each of the last four years.

Princeton Review cited an independent university audit released last month. It found that data submitted by UMKC in applying for rankings from 2011 to 2013 were inflated and fabricated. The same audit identified Song as the source of that information.

Chancellor Leo Morton announced Song’s resignation in an email to the university community, calling him “a talented researcher and teacher who strived relentlessly to lead the development of outstanding entrepreneurship programs at UMKC.”

During his tenure at UMKC, the Regnier Institute became the signature program at the Bloch School.

Song issued a statement, too, saying his continued employment was “an unnecessary distraction” to the school’s mission.

“For the best interests of the students and programs,” he wrote, “I have reluctantly decided to resign from UMKC so that everyone can focus on doing the important thing — training the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators.”

Morton accepted Song’s resignation and thanked him for putting the best interests of the Bloch School and its students first.

Reached by phone, Song, a UMKC professor since 2004, declined to comment further.

University officials declined to discuss the circumstances behind the resignation. But the rankings scandal and Song’s part in it had been the subject of both national publicity and intense discussions among students and faculty.

Bloch School faculty met shortly after noon and signed off on a resolution that had been passed unanimously by Regnier Institute faculty. The resolution stated that the faculty renounced honors awarded to the program for the period it was led by Song.

It was put forward by the institute’s current head, Jeff Hornsby, who said it had the full support of Bloch School Dean David Donnelly.

“We acknowledge there was a faulty process,” Hornsby said Friday, referring to the institute’s pursuit of rankings under Song’s leadership. “But we are moving forward and wiping all of our marketing materials clean” of those awards.

Among the honors singled out in the resolution was the No. 1 world ranking that UMKC’s entrepreneurship program received in a study published in the March 2012 edition of the Journal of Product Innovation Management, or JPIM.

That ranking had been a source of pride for UMKC officials and was a key part of the Bloch School’s marketing effort since it was announced.

But from the start, that designation was met with skepticism by some faculty members. Both it and the Princeton Review rankings stirred controversy inside and outside the university.

A Kansas City Star investigation last summer raised questions about the Princeton Review data and Song’s previously undisclosed involvement in the JPIM article.

Days after The Star’s stories appeared, Gov. Jay Nixon requested an independent review of the school’s rankings, citing the newspaper’s investigation. The University of Missouri Board of Curators ordered an audit by the PricewaterhouseCoopers accounting firm.

That audit, which was released Jan. 30, confirmed that officials within the Bloch School submitted faulty data in pursuit of rankings from the Princeton Review. It also determined that Song may have helped write the JPIM article and worked closely with its authors. Previously, he’d told The Star that he didn’t remember seeing the article before it was published.

The faculty resolution also said the Bloch School should distance itself from the national model program awards the institute received in 2012 and 2014 from the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

And it suggested that the Regnier Institute refrain from seeking new rankings for at least a year “until a fully functioning review committee is established and internal procedures are corrected.”

Morton had previously endorsed the creation of such a committee.

Pressure for disciplinary action against Song had been building ever since the Princeton Review took away those rankings. One student started an online petition calling on Morton to fire Song.

It garnered only a few names. But on Thursday, upwards of 75 students attended a private meeting with Morton and Donnelly. Many of those exiting said they wanted an apology from the dean and to see the person responsible for falsifying data “held accountable.”

“How UMKC decides to handle this will have a lot to do with my feelings about the school from now on, about my trust in the chancellor and the administration,” said Aman Kaur, a business school student from Lenexa. She said she chose UMKC over the University of Kansas because the Bloch School had such a strong reputation.

Ryan Sprague, who hopes to graduate in December, said students asked whether UMKC had considered refunding part of their tuition. “Some people ... came here because the rankings were more than Rockhurst or KU,” he said.

“Students are our utmost concern at this time,” Hornsby said. “We are managing this situation to make sure they receive the highest quality education they deserve.”

The loss of the Princeton Review rankings was upsetting to many students. The independent audit looked at three forms of data on UMKC’s rankings applications for 2011, 2012 and 2013 and found that all three had been inflated.

And in each instance, the audit found, Song played some role.

According to the 35-page audit report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Song instructed the institute’s managing director at the time, John Norton, on what data to include in the Princeton Review applications.

Some of the information submitted, Norton told auditors, was a “misrepresentation” of the program. Other numbers were outright fabrications, notably the number of clubs open to entrepreneurship students, he said.

Norton said he submitted the numbers anyway, telling auditors that he felt pressured by Song to do so.

Norton “did not defend his position,” the audit said, “for fear of job security as well as wanting to follow the former IEI director’s vision for the institute.”

Norton declined to comment. Donnelly did not respond to a request for comment.

Song was relieved of his leadership duties at the institute when Donnelly became dean a year ago.

Before Song’s demotion, he had a spacious office in the Bloch School’s Executive Hall and earned $422,894 annually.

Since then, he has occupied a much smaller office and was teaching just two courses this semester. One had eight students enrolled; the other had two.

Yet at $398,894, he made $102,000 a year more than Morton is paid to run the entire university. Only Donnelly, at $425,000, and the dean of the medical school, Steven Kanter at $500,000, are better paid at UMKC.

To reach Mike Hendricks, call 816-234-4738 or send email to mhendricks@kcstar.com.

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or email mdwilliams@kcstar.com.

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