One might have thought that a traditional print newspaper like the Financial Times would be getting a little less arrogant as it slides toward economic extinction, but if anything, the opposite is the case, as I have experienced in the last few weeks.
By way of background, on June 30, 2013, I stepped down as dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto after a record 15-year stint. Gratifyingly, the pretty universal view was that I did a nice job as dean. Whew!
That notwithstanding, Della Bradshaw, the longtime editor in charge of the Financial Times MBA rankings, which has made her the most powerful business education journalist in the world, wrote a column on October 20, 2013 that repeatedly misstated the nature of my departure without checking a single fact.
The article asserted about me and another successful dean (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent): "But once their terms of office were over, they were unceremoniously kicked out." And then I was described as having been "ousted from the dean's job."
Had Bradshaw spent five minutes fact-checking these nasty allegations, she would have found out from our public university, whose decanal terms are completely open and transparent to the world, that my third term of office has not yet reached its June 30, 2014 scheduled end. While Bradshaw may feel that she has journalistic super powers that enable her to know in advance what will happen in June of 2014, I doubt the rest of the world is quite as confident. Most would say it is hard to assert that someone was "kicked out when their term was over" when their term still isn't over.
Of course "kicked out" and "ousted" are terms that can have various meanings, though if "kicked out" is modified by "unceremoniously," the meaning gets pretty much locked in. If Bradshaw had spent a couple of minutes either researching or fact-checking, she might have figured out that far from my departure being unceremonious, it was replete with so many ceremonies to honor my work as dean that it verged on personally embarrassing. It was also generous -- the many friends and supporters of the School donated over $3 million to create programs to honor my contributions as dean.
And "ousted..." well you get the point by now. Making stuff up is a bit like cockroaches. If you find one made up thing; chances are, there will be lots and lots of made up things.
Stung by receipt of emails expressing condolences for the terrible treatment that I had allegedly received at the hands of my university, I asked one of the finest law firms in Toronto to help get the record set straight. It was a fascinating experience. The FT response was that it couldn't just print that I wasn't "kicked out" or "ousted." I had to provide proof that I wasn't!
To be clear: they published defamatory misstatements about me without a shred of research or evidence. That notwithstanding, the burden was on me to prove that the misstatements weren't true. The arrogance was breathtaking.
Our president was duly outraged and wrote the following to the friendly lawyers at the FT:
"To whom it may concern: I write as President Emeritus of the University of Toronto in response to an FT editorial by Della Bradshaw entitled 'The dean hunters'. The editorial unfortunately contained a disturbing misrepresentation of the transition back to the ranks of our former dean of the Rotman School of Management, Roger Martin. Roger made a massive and transformative contribution to the growth and development of the Rotman School. We have strict decanal term limits, which are very seldom waived. A third term requires the president to intervene and the concurrence of a review committee. I asked Roger to put his name in play for that unusual third term, given the importance to the School and University of the completion of major projects that he was driving forward with his characteristic vision, energy, and skill. We agreed in advance that once the projects were completed, it would be Roger's call as to a date of departure. So far from being 'unceremoniously kicked out', Roger Martin finished those projects, chose his own date of departure, and left his post amidst celebrations of his legacy. I urge you to correct the record immediately. Sincerely, David Naylor, President Emeritus."
We negotiated back and forth and in the end, our draft was rejected. The FT lawyer indicated that FT would unilaterally publish whatever it damn well pleased, which it did.
The real elephant in the room, however, is that Bradshaw runs the FT's incredibly powerful and lucrative MBA-ranking franchise. It is clear from this example that not only is Bradshaw game to apparently make stuff up to fit a story that she wishes to write, neither she nor her paper are very apologetic when caught red-handed. This does raise the rather important question: What gives the business schools and business school students worldwide the confidence that Bradshaw and the FT don't just make up rankings stuff to fit whatever story they happen to want to tell to sell that year's rankings publication? It is an issue because there is a lot of stuff in the FT MBA rankings that could be made up without the schools in question ever being able to detect the fraud.
Given how lucrative the FT MBA ranking franchise is, it wouldn't be a bad idea for someone at the FT to look for more proverbial cockroaches. But from my experience, I suspect they are far too arrogant to do so.