Virus Causes Widespread Travel Cancellations For MBAs

An image from an electron microscope shows SARS-CoV-2 (orange), the respiratory virus that causes COVID-19, emerging from the surface of cells (green) cultured in a lab. Stanford Medicine image

MBA students in the United States who had been looking forward to school-sponsored travel abroad this spring are feeling major disappointment as fears of a coronavirus pandemic lead to a wave of cancellations, curtailments, and outright travel moratoriums at top business schools. Since January, trips have been scrapped, delegations recalled, on-campus events that attract large international attendance delayed or cancelled, and other programs postponed or moved online as the virus known as COVID-19 — responsible for thousands of deaths globally, mostly in China, Italy, and Iran — spreads.

As the number of cases globally approaches 100,000 and the number of deaths exceeds 3,300, Stanford Graduate School of Business has cancelled the Seed Transformation Network Global Summit, all international MBA Global Study Trips (to Chile, Taiwan, Japan, and the Philippines), the MSx Seattle Study Trip, and the LEAD Me2We campus event. This comes after the school’s January cancellation of the Stanford-Tsinghua Exchange Program, or STEP, just after students from China’s Tsinghua University had checked into the Stanford Guest House on January 28 for their nine-day stay. “The school made the decision to cancel the program,” says spokesperson Kristin Harlan, “given the changes in air travel to and from China and concern for the Tsinghua students’ ability to get home.”

Stanford GSB issued a statement Thursday (March 5) that it is “actively monitoring the status of COVID-19, also called novel coronavirus, with the health and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff firmly in mind.” The school will continue to follow the guidance of the federal Centers for Disease Control as it evaluates conditions, and its statement about dealing with the virus is being updated daily on the Stanford University website, Harlan tells Poets&Quants.

“Currently, there are no cases of COVID-19 at any Stanford location,” the school’s statement reads, “including the Knight Management Center and student residences, and classes on campus are continuing without interruption. However, we have made the difficult decision to cancel several international events and to postpone all on-campus events over 150 people to prioritize the health and safety of our community. We’re actively planning, in close coordination with Stanford University, for contingencies and for additional precautionary measures, given the spread of the virus elsewhere.


Yale SOM Dean Kerwin Charles

The impact of COVID-19 on some schools extends beyond their own programs into shared and collaborative ones. At Yale School of Management, in addition to the cancellation of all outbound school-sponsored travel during the school’s spring break in March — a move affecting faculty-led International Experience courses, student consulting engagements that are part of the Global Social Entrepreneurship course, and more — Yale SOM also plans to move online its in-person, for-credit courses in the Global Network for Advanced Management, a 30-school global consortium. This includes the GNAM International Experience — a six-course, six-destination program that usually takes students to China, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda/Kenya, and South Africa — as well as Global Network Week, during which 17 GNAM schools host modules throughout the spring.

“In all, 268 SOM students were scheduled to travel outside the U.S. for one of our various global programs,” Nathan Williams, Yale SOM managing director of marketing and public relations, tells P&Q. Efforts to go virtual in some GNAM courses are underway, he adds.

“I know this decision imposes significant hardship on you,” Yale SOM Dean Kerwin Charles wrote to students affected by the decision to cancel all outbound international travel, “both in practical terms (plane tickets and other logistics) and in emotional terms, as you have likely been looking forward to and preparing for your departure for some time. The timing is also challenging, as you are completing your demanding Spring 1 course load and may already have bags packed. …

“The news about COVID-19 and its impact on travel and other activities has been changing day by day — indeed, hour by hour. There is substantial uncertainty about how far the virus will spread, how governments will respond to new cases, and how businesses and other organizations will be affected in coming days. In addition to the concern that members of our community could be exposed to coronavirus while traveling, our decision is motivated by concern that students may face challenges re-entering the United States. Such delays could disrupt students’ academic pursuits at Yale SOM, especially given our fast-paced quarter system.

“As a school, we must do all we can to give each of you the best possible chance to succeed and take full advantage of your time at Yale.”


Fear of a pandemic has spread across the graduate business education landscape. At Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business, all international travel is on hold, a decision impacting about 270 MBA students and faculty who were set to embark upon educational programs this month, including 10 course offerings March 10-20. As Dean Matthew Slaughter wrote to MBA students last week, “Guided by the twin priorities of our community’s health and safety and the integrity of our students’ education, we have made the difficult decision to cancel all Tuck-sponsored international travel in March. This includes the international travel component of all upcoming Global Insight Expeditions and Global First-Year Project courses, and any other Tuck-sponsored international treks.” Students who choose to travel internationally and who transit through countries rated Levels 2 or 3 by the CDC will be required to self-quarantine for two weeks.

Elsewhere, Harvard Business School is following the mandate of the university to prohibit travel to countries that have received a Level 3 warning from the CDC: mainland China, Iran, Italy and South Korea. Columbia Business School also is following its university guidelines in suspending trips outside the U.S., as is Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. Georgetown’s moratorium is scheduled to last until mid-May.

At NYU Stern School of Business, international courses that were slated to take place during spring break have been cancelled. In February, Emory University Goizueta Business School halted a program in South Korea for students that was to take place over mid-semester break.


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