December 24, 2007

Commentary: Wharton School’s Prestige Loses Some of Its Luster

By Boyd, Mike

I'm glad The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania isn't in the business of teaching communications, because if it were, it likely wouldn't enjoy the prestige it has garnered teaching business -- at least if its in-house communications department is any indicator.

For the past few months I've been trying to get someone -- heck anyone -- at Wharton or Penn to answer a couple simple questions. Apparently, nobody working within the hallowed halls of the Ivy League institution is capable of that.

What prompted my inquiries was a letter to the editor that I received from Robert Castiglione, the creator of the LEAP System. He wasn't happy about a column that Allan Roth wrote which critiqued his book about the system.

In the letter to the editor in defense of the system, Mr. Castiglione wrote: "It has been endorsed for its accuracy by major financial institutions and its math has been certified by actuaries including the Wharton School Actuarial Department."

That's an impressive statement. In fact, Mr. Castiglione wrote in a subsequent e-mail to me that he included it because he "needed to let your readers know that I have credibility too."

So, I contacted Wharton. And that's when things started to get interesting.

You see, Wharton denied any involvement. But Mr. Castiglione claimed he had an actuarial report on Wharton letterhead.

The school did admit that one of its professors had done some work for LEAP, but not in any official, school-related capacity. So how did they explain the actuarial report on Wharton stationary?

The professor who wrote the actuarial report said he "used Wharton letterhead for this report as a matter of convenience; in hindsight, I should not have used it so as to avoid any possible confusion."

The school insisted that "Prof Lemaire worked on this project in a private capacity with no involvement from the Wharton School. The Wharton School has never had an involvement. The School, including Prof Lemaire, have no further information available."

Of course, Mr. Castiglione disagreed, as evidenced by this e- mail response: "My Certification letter is on Wharton School stationary not Mr. Lemaire's stationary. All work was done on the premises of Wharton School and not off premises. Mr. Lemaire has given me and LEAP SYSTEM's Inc. approval to use the Wharton School name and permission to use the certification letter in the name of Wharton School. Mr. Lemaire stated that was standard procedure. Any other facts about this certification from other sources at Wharton would be incorrect."

Yeah. Doesn't take a Wharton actuarial professor to tell two and two aren't adding up to four on this one.

So, my first simple question for Wharton was this: Has anyone associated with LEAP been told that the school had no official involvement?

I still haven't received a response.

My second simple question: What is the school's position knowing that its name is being used, at least according to Wharton officials, inappropriately?

Again, still no response.

I've seen the actuarial letter. Mr. Castiglione was kind enough to fax me a copy after several e-mail requests.

Once again, I'm not a Wharton School graduate, but nowhere in the report does the professor state that he is working in a private capacity. Here's the first sentence: "I, Jean Lemaire, am associated with the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, as Chairman of the Insurance and Risk Management Department and Director of the Actuarial Science Program."

Seems to me, that given the Wharton stationary and that considering that introduction, a reasonable person could conclude that the report was prepared under the auspices of the school.

And if the school hasn't been in contact with Mr. Castiglione, then why should he take my or anyone else's word that Wharton is denying involvement?

On the surface, this situation appears to be a simple misunderstanding. And one would think that it could be resolved quite easily with a letter, e-mail, fax or phone call from somebody at Wharton to Mr. Castiglione.

But things are never that simple, are they? Especially when the august high and mighty members of elite academia decide that it's apparently better to stonewall and refuse to answer simple questions than to clear up simple mistakes/misunderstandings.

I did pose one additional question to Amy Gutmann, the president of the University of Pennsylvania: Would the university or Wharton be willing to reimburse any of the $3 trillion that Mr. Castiglione claims his system has sold if the policy holders made their investments because of the claimed Wharton endorsement?

Ms. Gutmann hasn't responded. Guess she's sticking with the "no further comment" refrain, which seems to be the mission statement for her university and business school.

Frankly, I had expected more from Ms. Gutmann, the University of Pennsylvania and Wharton. But hey, who am I to judge the elites -- I'm just a kid from a tiny south Texas town who went to a small state university and earned a bachelor's degree in communications.

Credit: Mike Boyd

(Copyright 2007 Dolan Media Newswires)

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