What follows is the full text of a report to alumni of Harvard Business School from Dean Nitin Nohria released in January of 2017.
Last spring, during the span of a few weeks in April, three different governance groups—the Visiting Committee, the Board of Dean’s Advisors, and a reaccreditation team from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)—gathered on campus to review the School’s educational programs and activities. We leveraged this unusual convergence of meetings to undergo a comprehensive process of self-examination and assessment of the progress we have made on our ‘%i” priorities—innovation, intellectual ambition, internationalization, inclusion, and integration—and of the state the school more generally. Some of this work was internal and took place over breakfasts with students, in small sessions with the faculty, in conversations with alumni, and via a range of forums with staff. Together we explored questions such as:
“Where do we feel confident we are on the right path?”
“What efforts are having less than their intended impact?”
“What trends are we seeing in business, and are we responding appropriately to them?”
“What should we be doing less, or more, of?”
“Are there important activities we have neglected or new initiatives we must consider?”
“What is distinctive about HBS, and how do we preserve it?”
We also purposefully took advantage of the outside perspective provided by the governance groups—comprising alumni, academics (including deans and presidents) from other schools, and faculty colleagues from Harvard University—to gather invaluable input on these questions.
The process was one with many benefits. First and foremost, it affirmed the progress we have achieved on our 5i priorities and enabled us to recommit to them with the confidence that they remain timely and relevant, even as we seek to redirect or extend our efforts in some areas. Equally important, though, it highlighted areas that deserve more attention: ensuring the relevance and rigor of what we teach, understanding the impact of the economic diversity of our student body (which has greatly increased as a result of generous financial aid), and revitalizing the faculty so that it can continue to advance the distinctive methods and mission of the School. Taken together, the feedback suggested that we must strengthen what is at our core—our curriculum, our student culture, and our faculty’s distinctiveness—even as we sustain our focus on innovation.
This call to strengthen our core was an important reminder at a time when much in the world is changing. Management education remains an industry in flux, with business schools still experiencing a decline in enrollments in two-year programs while one-year and executive MBA programs, and now online programs, proliferate. Business executives are asking whether management research being done in business schools is sufficiently focused on real-world problems and are turning instead to purveyors of management knowledge including consulting firms, conferences like TED and the World Economic Forum, and online aggregators like Coursera and Skillsoft. Elections in a number of countries over the past year reflect a nascent but rising anti-globalization sentiment. Instability, whether as the result of Brexit, uncertainty about trade agreements, or geopolitical tensions, has made world markets more volatile.
So it is with a strong belief in the leadership role HBS and its graduates can (indeed, must) play in their organizations and communities, cognizance of the changing landscape we face, and continued commitment to our mission that I write to you now with an update on the School and our priorities, and ideas for how we aim to strengthen our core in the months ahead.
The MBA Program, given its 100+ year legacy and the more than 900 students who graduate each year, is the program most people associate with HBS. In fact, though, the School now offers four types of academic programs, each devoted in its own way to educating leaders who make a difference in the world.
We continue to refine the MBA Program to make it an ever more compelling and transformational educational experience. Building on the case method curriculum, which continues to be the foundation of the School’s pedagogy, we have added a complementary field method curriculum that leverages learning by doing.
Students are introduced to the field method in their first year through Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD), now in its sixth year. Following our comprehensive review, we made some changes to FIELD for the 2016–2017 academic year. The first module, now called FIELD Foundations, has been extended over the full fall term, giving students more time and opportunity to develop core leadership skills and to gain feedback on their personal leadership style.
The second module, now called FIELD Global Immersion (FGI), has moved to the spring term and culminates in an in-country global immersion in May. This new timing enables students to leverage the skills and concepts of the entire first year curriculum, including courses such as Strategy and Business, Government, and the International Economy that are taught in the second term.
The FIELD3 module, which had all students launching a micro-business, has been moved to the second year as an elective offering, reflecting the bimodal experience our students had with this course: some found it to be a deeply important learning opportunity, but just as many were largely disengaged. As we do with all changes we introduce, we will undertake another review of FIELD in three years to see how these refinements are working.
We have launched an elective January Wintersession, this year featuring a short, intensive start-up boot camp for would-be entrepreneurs, and in future years expanding to include topics such as coding and financial analysis. We hope this opportunity to explore new domains and build useful skills will both help students who come to HBS looking to change their career trajectory and add some variety to the otherwise lock-step nature of the first year curriculum.
Building on a powerful insight from neuroscience that individuals are most likely to retain ideas in long-term memory if asked to remember them just when they are at risk of forgetting them, students return to campus after their FIELD global immersions to take their final exams and complete a short capstone designed to help them integrate and consolidate their learning from the first year.
With FIELD continuing to evolve in the required curriculum, and with immersive and extended field courses now representing more than 20% of the 80+ courses in the elective curriculum, we have made significant progress in redefining how we advance the knowing, doing, and being of educating leaders in the MBA Program.