Harvard Business School

Photo by John A. Byrne courtesy of Poets & Quants.com

Harvard Business School suspended in-person tuition for its MBA students this week following an outbreak of positive COVID cases among students. The school made the move – effective September 27 through October 3 – after posting a positivity rate 12 times that of the rest of Harvard.

That certainly rang the alarm bells at HBS. After all, MBA students make up around 9% of the student body at the university, but accounted for more than two thirds of all student cases in September. “We are an absolute outlier among the Harvard Schools in our numbers,” admitted the administrators of the Harvard Business School in an email to the students.

Yet what seems like a prudent and sensible decision is now being attacked by a Washington Post columnist. Under the headline “Suspending personal courses is the wrong call“Conservative columnist Megan McArdle criticized the school administration for what they thought was an exaggerated response to some positive cases.

“These interventions were correct in September 2020 when the alternative was to let Covid-19 rip unhindered through vulnerable populations,” she wrote. “But that’s 2021. We have several extremely effective vaccines that dramatically lower the risk of symptomatic illness. Even if you have a landmark case, vaccines reduce the risk of dying or passing it on to others. “

Harvard University’s COVID-19 dashboard shows that in the past seven days, 60 of the 74 positive cases reported were graduate students. “These terrifying numbers are so high that they have caught the attention of local health officials. Our community can and must do better, ”read the email asking students to stop all unmasked indoor social activities.

McArdle, a self-proclaimed “right-wing libertarian,” who also holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. had none of it. “There is a certain begging quality to this request,” she wrote. “MBAs are there to network with other MBAs and to conduct interviews with elite companies, not to master course content. They may rebel if they pay $ 100,000 a year to sit at home and stare at a screen. “

Her opinion piece also claimed that the outbreak was a likely consequence of MBA culture. “It will come as no surprise to anyone who has attended a graduate school that of all of Harvard’s graduate departments, the Business School had the major COVID-19 outbreak. As one of my acquaintances’ architects remarked about her time at Harvard, ‘The MBAs really seemed like a lot of partying.’ ”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, McArdle’s column fueled a storm of controversy, with more than 600 mostly critical comments attached to the article. One reader after another, the columnist beat up for her views.

“The problem is, these students don’t just interact with each other. You interact with people all over Cambridge, ”wrote one commenter, concerned_voter. “Wouldn’t it be irresponsible for Harvard to ignore a Covid outbreak in its business school when people outside of school are also affected? Boosters are only now being introduced to protect the weak. In light of this, Harvard’s stance seems to me to be entirely sensible. “

“Jesus,” added another reader. “Can we really be in this nightmare for so many months and still have idiotic newspaper columnists who don’t know how deadly viruses are spread?”

“Your arrogance about treating HBS students as some kind of creature from another planet is off the table,” laughed one commenter.

Even some MBAs joined the debate. “What a waste of the author’s Washington Post platform with this ill-founded comment. Harvard is right to have its MBA program online, at least temporarily,” one wrote. “The move is necessary to protect lecturers, students and employees at the HBS. While HBS students are typically in their mid-20s, many faculty and staff find themselves in a more vulnerable demographic. For example, did McArdle consider the HBS security and catering staff? The stereotyping of all MBAs as privileged parties is also offensive. Sure, some MBA students fit that description, but many are hard workers who take their studies seriously. I have an MBA degree and was a member of the second group. “

Readers’ criticism quickly spread from McArdle to the newspaper’s editors. “I just can’t understand why the Washington Post would publish public health advice from someone with no public health expertise. I suspect airline pilots do not turn to Ms. McCardle for advice on flying an airplane. Why would someone ask her for advice on how to deal with a pandemic? 4,655 people died from it last week. Maybe we should listen to people who know what they are talking about. “

And then there was this point of view from another reader: “The Harvard Biz School has caused enough disasters for us as a country. Anything that hinders his ability to corrupt our country is very much appreciated. “

The editors of The Harvard Crimson meanwhile applauded the school for the suspension of face-to-face tuition. In an editorial Released yesterday (October 1st), the editors called the move a “tactful response”.

“The brief switch from HBS back online is a harrowing reminder that COVID-19 is still very much with us,” said Crimson. “We have to understand this as an indication that we must all act responsibly to protect ourselves and others from Covid-19 – even outside of our courses and official university events and even when nobody is watching.

“Harvard’s decision to reschedule business school classes online for a week is a tactful response, and its bespoke nature is a tremendous relief. The choice is an indication of the university’s ability to respond quickly and proportionally to changing circumstances. It also suggests that over the past 18 months we have learned a lot about how to respond to Covid-19, with a better understanding of what it takes to contain an increase in cases: increasing our testing frequencies and after Ability to detach while preserving the living experience. We are also excited to see Harvard working with local government officials to ensure this outbreak does not spread to the city of Cambridge or beyond. This week of online courses came after local and state health officials recommended it. All of these short-term measures promise long-term benefits – both for our own peace of mind and for the actual protection of our community. “