The most gratifying stories that reporters get involved in, hands down, are those that expose significant wrongdoing and subsequently prompt corrective action, affirming the validity of the reporters’ work.
Today, Mike Hendricks and Mara Rose Williams of The Star can be rightfully proud. As a result of their stories exposing administrative cheating at the UMKC Bloch School of Management, the Princeton Review has removed UMKC from its 2014, top-25 list of best entrepreneurship education programs in the country.
Hendricks’ and Williams’ initial expose was published last July. On Sunday, they followed it up with a report on an accounting firm’s confirmation of their findings.
Today, they posted on The Star’s website a story that says:
“It’s the first time in its 34-year history that the Princeton Review has taken away a school’s rankings. The move came two days after an independent university audit reported that officials…knowingly submitted inflated data in applying for rankings in 2011, 2012 and 2013.”
A huge, nasty stream of egg white and yolk is now streaming down the face of UMKC, the Bloch school and the individual faces of the three people most responsible for this debacle. They are:
:: Former Bloch school dean Teng-Kee Tan, who pushed business school administrators to raise the school’s standing in the Princeton Review rankings. Tan was drawing a base salary of $410,000 before he stepped down for health reasons before The Star published its expose. (Yes, I’ll bet he’s pretty darn sick.)
:: Professor Michael Song, who formerly headed the school’s innovation management research department. Among other things, Song offered up false data that went into the school’s application for an entrepreneurship-program ranking in the Princeton Review. The phony data included the names and numbers of student clubs and mentorship programs and enrollment figures for the entrepreneurship program. Most of the clubs that Song identified didn’t even exist. (Somehow, Song has managed to remain on the Bloch school faculty.)
:: Henry Bloch, who gave UMKC $32 million for a new business school building in 2011 and subsequently leaned on administrators to get high rankings. In their original story, Hendricks and Williams wrote the following: “As Henry Bloch neared his 90th birthday, he was growing impatient at how long it was taking the school that bore his name to gain national prominence…He was willing to keep writing checks, but he wanted progress in the rankings as proof that he was making a wise investment.”
Hendricks and Williams interviewed dozens of people inside and outside UMKC for their original story. They also reviewed thousands of pages of internal UMKC documents obtained through an open-records request.
In the wake of that story, the MU Board of Curators commissioned an investigative audit, which was conducted by the international accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. That report, released last week, not only supported the reporters’ original story but also said the cheating was worse than it first appeared.
For its part, UMKC has been in virtual denial. The first story said that UMKC denied it had engaged in a “patterns of exaggerations” or that it took “short cuts” to gain undeserved rankings.
Last week, in response to the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton would only make a limited and grudging acknowledgment, saying:
“I take seriously the report’s conclusions on the three areas of flawed data in the Princeton Review application.”
I’ve got three things to say about this:
1) Morton needs to change his tune and offer an unequivocal acknowledgment of the wrongdoing and, at the same time, offer an unequivocal apology. His stone walling is ridiculous, and he’s embarrassing himself and UMKC. If he doesn’t make a clean breast of things, he should be fired.
2) UMKC needs to initiate steps to fire Song. It boggles the mind that he’s still walking around the campus and teaching courses.
3) I hope Hendricks and Williams get some major journalistic awards for this story. They deserve it. It took a lot of guts for them — and their editors — to take on UMKC as an institution and Leo Morton, Henry Bloch and other powerful individuals. But they got ’em; the scalps are on the wall.