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HBS To Add ‘Flexibility’ To MBA Withdrawal Policy

Harvard Case Classroom. ©Natalie-Keyssar

Harvard Business School is loosening its withdrawal policies for second-year MBAs amid concern over being able to meet for in-person classes this fall. The “flexibility” in withdrawing was added after some MBAs asked about the process for taking a leave of absence from the school rather than take virtual classes, HBS Dean Nitin Nohria and Executive Dean for Administration Angela Crispi wrote in an email to soon-to-be second-year MBAs.

“Some of you have asked about the process for taking a leave and finishing later, when you are more confident that classes will be in person,” the email, sent today (April 27), reads. “We’ve added some flexibility to the withdrawal policy to give you more options here, and the MBA program team has developed a planning document that we expect you’ll find helpful. You’ll see that you have until 10 August to decide. We want you to make your decision with as much information as possible.”

A request to HBS for elaboration on the planning document or what added flexibility means practically has not yet been answered.

HARVARD STILL UNCLEAR WHAT ‘FORM THE OPENING’ THIS FALL WILL LOOK LIKE

Angela Crispi. HBS photo

Nohria and Crispi’s email, obtained by Poets&Quants, was written in response to an email sent by Harvard Provost Alan Garber to the entire university, which confirmed that Harvard will open during the fall 2020 semester.

“What form the opening will take remains unclear,” Crispi and Nohria wrote. “The Provost candidly acknowledged that preparing for remote classes and work will be necessary even as we might hope that a physical return to campus will be possible.”

The decision to reopen campus this fall isn’t surprising, they wrote, even if there is still uncertainty surrounding the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

“As we’ve been testing out various scenarios ourselves at HBS, it quickly became clear that the positives of this approach far outweigh those of the alternatives,” the email reads. “Were there an end in sight to the pandemic, for example, a delayed opening might seem attractive. But given what we know today — including that immunity, vaccines, testing, and treatment may not be widespread or widely available for some time — we believe our best path is not just to accept but to embrace this option. We think that by drawing on the experience, expertise, and commitment of our community, we can create a unique and effective educational experience in our MBA and Doctoral Programs, whether that be in person, online, or some combination of the two. Moreover, we hope that what we learn will carry over to transform what we do in other areas of the School as well.”

‘FEW WINNERS IN ANY OF THESE SCENARIOS’

Crispi and Nohria say optimism that HBS will deliver a top-notch fully online or hybrid product stems from developing programs like HBS Online, the i-lab (innovation lab), and FIELD. “We have talked about the School’s adaptive capacity before, and we expect to mobilize that capacity in the weeks between now and the launch of the new academic year,” Crispi and Nohria write. “Our aim is not to merely repeat the experience of this spring when we had little choice but to finish online a curriculum that was already underway. Instead, we will strive to reimagine the way we teach — leveraging what we know about both synchronous and asynchronous learning platforms, about the case method, and about field courses and projects, which we have come to see can be combined in powerful ways. We will tap into our alumni network. We will re-envision the way students interact with each other and with faculty. We will devise new ways to foster community.

According to Betsy Massar of Master Admissions, an MBA admissions consultancy, many students — particularly international ones — have been a bit anxious.

“I’ve been talking all weekend to students about deferral-by-visa and deferral-by-choice,” Massar, who holds an MBA from Harvard, says. “Everyone is a bit anxious, but a lot of them are just plain ready to go to school.”

But just because students are ready to return, there are still a lot of complications in taking virtual classes from, say, Asia, she says.

“Virtual classes have their downsides,” Massar says. “Students in Asia have it worst — they likely will be doing the night shift. So it’s all a very expensive trade-off, and there are few winners in any of these scenarios.”

TUITION WILL REMAIN THE SAME; SCHOOL TO ‘REVISIT’ AID PACKAGES

Tuition was another topic Nohria and Crispi mentioned. Earlier this month, a petition among current Harvard Business School students began circulating asking for a refund for classes that were forced to move online because of the spread of COVID-19. The petition followed the lead of many other top business schools. Harvard was one of the earliest universities to close its campus due to the coronavirus.

“We also want to address head-on any question you might have about tuition, which the note from the Provost does not address,” the email reads. “Even before the pandemic hit, to make the MBA program more affordable, we had frozen tuition, fees, and housing costs for 2020-2021 and increased the pool of financial aid. For next year, you should assume that there will be no reduction in tuition and be comfortable with that decision should you choose to return. To the extent that the pandemic has had a detrimental economic impact on you and your families, we will, as always, revisit your financial situation over the summer in determining your aid package for next year. We anticipate that more of you may need aid, and we are committed to providing it. We also are exploring new forms of additional support for those who need it most.”

Either way, it seems like the school is planning on some sort of hybrid classroom to at least start this fall.

“To our students, and returning MBA students in particular: we want you to return and to do so all-in,” the email says. “To that end, we are eager to enlist your ingenuity on five workstreams that will focus on the RC academic experience, the EC academic experience, the extracurricular and social experience, careers, and the hybrid classroom. Jan Rivkin and Jana Kierstead are working with incoming SA co-presidents Caleb Bradford and Annie Plachta and with head senator Ryan Flamerich to identify student members for these working groups who can represent the broad diversity of student interests and views.

“While the full path ahead is not yet visible, we are excited to have a starting line for the fall.  Together, we think it’s going to be a uniquely HBS journey: done in partnership, and drawing on the many qualities and characteristics that make HBS distinctive.”

READ NOHRIA & CRISPI’S COMPLETE MESSAGE TO HBS MBA STUDENTS

To: HBS Community

From: Angela Crispi and Nitin Nohria

Re: 4/27 HBS Coronavirus update and planning for the fall

Earlier today, Provost Alan Garber wrote to the Harvard community confirming that the University plans to open for the fall 2020 semester. What form the opening will take remains unclear. The Provost candidly acknowledged that preparing for remote classes and work will be necessary even as we might hope that a physical return to campus will be possible.

This decision to reopen in the fall, despite the uncertainty, isn’t a surprising choice. As we’ve been testing out various scenarios ourselves at HBS, it quickly became clear that the positives of this approach far outweigh those of the alternatives. Were there an end in sight to the pandemic, for example, a delayed opening might seem attractive. But given what we know today—including that immunity, vaccines, testing, and treatment may not be widespread or widely available for some time—we believe our best path is not just to accept but to embrace this option. We think that by drawing on the experience, expertise, and commitment of our community, we can create a unique and effective educational experience in our MBA and Doctoral Programs, whether that be in person, online, or some combination of the two. Moreover, we hope that what we learn will carry over to transform what we do in other areas of the School as well.

Our optimism springs from our history: FIELD, the i-lab, HBS Online—all of these are recent innovations that went from idea to reality in a remarkably short time. We have talked about the School’s adaptive capacity before, and we expect to mobilize that capacity in the weeks between now and the launch of the new academic year. Our aim is not to merely repeat the experience of this spring when we had little choice but to finish online a curriculum that was already underway. Instead, we will strive to reimagine the way we teach—leveraging what we know about both synchronous and asynchronous learning platforms, about the case method, and about field courses and projects, which we have come to see can be combined in powerful ways. We will tap into our alumni network. We will re-envision the way students interact with each other and with faculty. We will devise new ways to foster community.

Most important, we will be asking all of you to help, because we know that only collectively can we realize our aspirations.

To our students, and returning MBA students in particular: we want you to return and to do so all-in. To that end, we are eager to enlist your ingenuity on five workstreams that will focus on the RC academic experience, the EC academic experience, the extracurricular and social experience, careers, and the hybrid classroom. Jan Rivkin and Jana Kierstead are working with incoming SA co-presidents Caleb Bradford and Annie Plachta and with head senator Ryan Flamerich to identify student members for these working groups who can represent the broad diversity of student interests and views.

We know you have many questions to consider as you think about your plans for the fall. Some of you have asked about the process for taking a leave and finishing later, when you are more confident that classes will be in person. We’ve added some flexibility to the withdrawal policy to give you more options here, and the MBA Program team has developed a planning document that we expect you’ll find helpful. You’ll see that you have until 10 August to decide. We want you to make your decision with as much information as possible.

We also want to address head-on any question you might have about tuition, which the note from the Provost does not address. Even before the pandemic hit, to make the MBA Program more affordable, we had frozen tuition, fees, and housing costs for 2020-2021 and increased the pool of financial aid. For next year, you should assume that there will be no reduction in tuition and be comfortable with that decision should you choose to return. To the extent that the pandemic has had a detrimental economic impact on you and your families, we will, as always, revisit your financial situation over the summer in determining your aid package for next year. We anticipate that more of you may need aid, and we are committed to providing it. We also are exploring new forms of additional support for those who need it most.

For our Doctoral students, we know that remote work and classes pose different challenges—including how you engage with each other and with faculty, access to research sites, and more. David Scharfstein, Jen Mucciarone, and your faculty advisors are deeply committed to supporting your work during these challenging times.

To our faculty, in the coming weeks, we’ll be going deeper into discussions with many of you about the work ahead. Just as we supported you in the transition to online learning, we’ll develop processes and resources to guide you as you plan for the fall. Here, too, we have the experience we can tap to jump-start our efforts.

To our staff, we know you are foundational to our efforts and our success. Your insights will be vital to the work we undertake, as will your continued flexibility as we learn how to achieve new results in new ways. We are so grateful for all the ways you’ve adapted to remote work already and are eager for your engagement moving forward.

While the full path ahead is not yet visible, we are excited to have a starting line for the fall. Together, we think it’s going to be a uniquely HBS journey: done in partnership, and drawing on the many qualities and characteristics that make HBS distinctive.

Onward! 

DON’T MISS: HBS TO OFFER DEFERMENT TO INCOMING MBAs or WHY THIS DEAN IS OPTIMISTIC ABOUT AN ON-CAMPUS START IN THE FALL