Fall 2020 Reopening Plans At The Top 100 U.S. Business Schools

Stanford GSB is planning a hybrid approach for fall 2020 MBA classes. Stanford photo

What does fall 2020 preparation look like at the very top of B-school rankings? For the answer we go to Palo Alto, California, where Stanford Graduate School of Business — like the rest of the top 25 U.S. B-schools — will have a hybrid approach this fall.

Classes at Stanford are slated to begin September 11. In a message to MBA students last week, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Brian Lowery, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Paul Oyer, and Associate Dean for MBA and MSx Programs Margaret Hayes wrote that in circumstances “different than any of us imagined,” the school is “committed to educating global leaders who will make a positive difference in the world.”

“The way in which the program is delivered may be altered,” they added, “but the need for leaders to develop deep, foundational knowledge and enduring skills is greater than ever.”

Lowery, Oyer, and Hayes split their message into two parts, one for returning MBA students in the Class of 2021 and one for students who will be new to Stanford. In the first message, they acknowledged the challenges caused by uncertainty over what the autumn quarter will look like, giving international students on F-1 visas a special nod. The Autumn Quarter Task Force (AQTF), they say, continue to work on plans for the quarter, including focus groups and testing the school’s hybrid classroom model.

“The faculty and staff have been working tirelessly to ensure that Autumn Quarter is the best possible experience in terms of both academics and community building,” Lowery, Oyer, and Hayes write. “We are developing a variety of formats for course delivery, based on what works best for the material. Many courses are creating hybrid formats that will mix in-person and online learning components, and some courses will be entirely online. However, as you have undoubtedly seen, the recent trajectory of the pandemic in the U.S. indicates that we will be navigating the implications of Covid-19 for the foreseeable future. Our ability to execute on our plans to hold a substantial number of in-person components for Autumn Quarter courses depends on restrictions by the State of California and Santa Clara County. We are hopeful that these restrictions will ease before the quarter begins, but we also acknowledge, especially given recent trends in virus cases, that we may be forced to hold courses largely online for autumn.”


The deans offer examples of the hybrid model at some second-year courses. OB 374, Interpersonal Dynamics — best known as “Touchy Feely” — will have class lectures and activities online, while smaller eight-person “t-groups” may meet in person. Faculty teaching many other electives, such as Finance 319 (Private Equity Investing), meanwhile, “are planning an ‘A/B’ format where students will alternate between attending the class in person and attending via Zoom. In virtually every autumn course, students who are not able to come to campus or attend in person will be able to participate remotely. All guest speakers will participate remotely during Autumn Quarter.”

Global experiences — an integral part of an MBA education at any school, even more so at Stanford GSB, where all MBAs must complete a Global Experience Requirement (GER) — will obviously be severely affected. “The current Stanford Travel Policy suspends university-sponsored travel and outlines the conditions under which university travel may resume,” the deans wrote. “While we cannot predict if or when those conditions will be met, we believe it is unlikely they will be met in time to plan GER travel. In the meantime, we will work with student leaders on reimagining Global Study Trips, and consider updates needed for STEP. Students who still need to fulfill the GER will hear directly from the Global Experiences team.”

Lowery, Oyer, and Hayes’ closing message to second-year MBA students: Despite distance, “we are keeping you, your education, and everyone’s safety at the forefront of our minds. We are dedicated to creating the best Autumn Quarter experience possible given the difficult circumstances. As September approaches, we intend to send updates more regularly and post information on MyGSB.” They also promised regular updates every Monday.


Kirsten Moss

Kirsten Moss. File photo

Lowery, Oyer, and Hayes’ message to the MBA Class of 2022 strikes similar notes: Under difficult circumstances, the world needs leaders with fortitude and the right skill set. But starting one of the world’s most exclusive MBA programs and returning to it are two very different things, the deans acknowledge. And they urged the admits, before arriving in Palo Alto, to behave cautiously in an unprecedented health crisis.

As the start of the program draws near, you are transitioning from ‘admits’ to students,” they wrote. “It is important to acknowledge that your individual and collective behaviors and activities before arrival will impact your experience during the quarter. We are aware of the unofficial leisure travel that occurs in a typical year before students matriculate. We do not endorse or sponsor such travel. Our observation over many years is that these events do not reflect well on the GSB and the student community, nor are they an effective way to build an inclusive class dynamic, as many students are unable to participate.

“These issues are especially salient given the current trajectory of Covid-19 in the U.S. and throughout the world. Not only will gathering in large groups prior to arrival compromise the health and safety of others, such gatherings may create unintended consequences for the experience you will be able to have on campus. If there is a cluster of Covid-19 cases within the GSB, our ability to hold class meetings in person and have social gatherings will be jeopardized.”

GSB faculty and staff has created a variety of formats for course delivery, the deans wrote, “with each class tailoring the mode of instruction to the relevant material.” Most courses in the core curriculum will mix in-person and online learning components; some courses will be entirely online. However, all that can change if the pandemic worsens.

“We are doing a lot of preparing for in-person classes that may pay off someday but it might not be in the fall quarter,” Oyer tells P&Q. “On the non-academic side, we are asking what are other things we can do to facilitate small group meetings. How do we bring people together in a world where they all wear masks and be 6 feet apart? One of the hardest parts of this is how do we establish a culture where it’s okay to say, ‘Put your mask on,’ and it’s the norm to call out a classmate if they don’t. Our students are very naturally community-minded and it’s just a matter of getting them to understand the need to wear a mask and not to have a big party or anything that leads to a super spreader event.”


In a separate message to Stanford GSB’s international students, Kirsten Moss,
assistant dean of MBA admissions and financial aid, wrote that Stanford is aware of foreign students’ ongoing visa struggles and the resulting stress and uncertainty they are experiencing. It’s one reason the school is offering international admits the chance to defer for one or two years.

“Despite our expectations that embassies would begin opening in July, many continue to offer limited visa services. We recognize the stress this has caused for international students who need a visa to travel to Stanford, and we want to support you during this challenging time,” Moss wrote. “We know that obtaining a visa is out of both your and Stanford’s control, and we also cannot predict when embassies will resume regular operations. Given this uncertainty, we are offering those admitted students who need a visa to travel to Stanford the opportunity to defer enrollment. If you request a deferral, you may choose to enroll either in the fall of 2021 or the fall of 2022.” Admits seeking a deferral must apply for one by July 22.

Moss cited the efforts by some students to survey international students, the insights from which which helped to inform the school’s handling of foreign student concerns academically, socially, and otherwise. To those students, she wrote, “We are committed to you becoming part of the Stanford community — whether you choose to enroll this fall or in the future — and will continue to serve as a resource for you as you consider the options. While we respect that some people may decide to defer, our sincere hope is that many of you will begin your MBA journey this fall. The world needs leaders now, those who are impassioned to change lives, change organizations, and change the world.

“We are excited to collaborate with you as you develop lasting skills during this extraordinary moment in history.”

See pages 3, 4, 5, and 6 for a complete alphabetical list of the top 100 U.S. business schools’ plans for fall 2020, including links to all schools’ Covid-19 web pages.


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