A Surreal Glimpse Of Harvard Business School During COVID

A Harvard Business School class with masks and social distancing during COVIC

As Harvard Business School reopens its campus for new and returning MBA students, the school has shifted its “Returning to Campus” website with the name “Keep HBS Healthy.” The new name is consistent with HBS messaging on the need for both trust and compliance with the school’s health and safety protocols.

What will campus life be like at HBS during the pandemic? The school provides a glimpse in a three-minute video of masked students, staff and faculty in classrooms, dining rooms, the business school fitness center and residence halls. Instead of students mingling in groups, engaged with each other, the photos in the video show a very different scene with people more than six feet from each other, covered in masks, with little to no interaction.

When first-year MBAs were brought to campus last year, their welcoming remarks were, in the words of Dean Nitin Nohria and Executive Dean for Administration Angela Crispi “filled with many memorable lines—about making lemons out of lemonade, about drawing on self-discipline and courage, and about the opportunity to shape the world at a time when leadership is desperately needed.  It was a fitting and aspirational start to what we expect will be an incredible if unusual year.”

Social distancing in the hallways of Harvard Business School buildings


The new alone-together reality at the school started with a student’s arrival on campus. HBS students need to provide COVID test results before arriving on campus, though they also will be tested again within a few days of arrival and again one week later through Harvard University Health Services. During this period, students must remain in self-quarantine. Tests taken before arriving on campus are not valid for purposes of clearing quarantine.

All students, faculty, and staff who are on campus or plan to enter any HBS building must complete a wellness attestation, Crimson Clear, every day they will be on campus.  Those who get an all-clear will receive an email valid for 23 hours; those who do not will be directed to contact Harvard University Health Services (HUHS).  “This requirement applies to authorized staff coming in for even a quick visit to pick up mail, for example; to authorized faculty who are teaching or doing other work in their offices, even if infrequently; and to students, whether living on campus or in nearby off-campus housing,” according to Crispi and Nohria.

“In addition to testing, face coverings, and physical distancing, this simple web-based tool is another means of monitoring and ensuring the health and well-being of our community.  We plan to use Crimson Clear compliance, in conjunction with campus access data, as one of a number of ‘how we’re doing’ measures that will determine when and whether we can loosen or must tighten restrictions on our campus. ”

Inside HBS’ iconic Baker Library during COVID


HBS hand sanitizer

For this fall’s opening, many of the MBA classes will only be available online. For those in a hybrid format, HBS intends to limit the size of a class to 25 students and to impose requirements for physical distancing and face coverings in indoor spaces, including all dining facilities and retail locations, where contact or interaction with others is expected.

Face coverings also are required outdoors when physical distancing is not possible. All campus buildings also will be locked and will require Harvard ID card access. The school is also encouraging members of the community to leverage outdoor spaces as much as possible, employing tents and heat lamps to extend the academic season.

The guidelines prevent indoor gatherings of more than 25 people or outdoor events with more than 50. Informal gatherings are limited to no more than ten people whether indoor or outside.

Outside on the Harvard Business School campus


HBS has reduced the size of its core classes or required curriculum (RC) for first-year students to 72 from 90. So instead of having eight sections of 90 students each in RC classes, the school plans to have ten sections of 72 students each to allow for social distancing. Second-year MBA students, meantime, will be able to choose from classes taught entirely online and those offered in a hybrid format. Depending on demand, students in hybrid courses may physically be in class on a rotating basis with some portion of their class taking place remotely.

The university also began publishing a COVID-19 testing dashboard. “You can see the impact of the MBA start-up,” writes Crispi and Nohria in a recent update. “If you imagine hundreds of RC (Required Curriculum) students getting tested as part of their arrival and quarantine protocols, and know that much smaller numbers of undergraduates have returned to campus, you’ll understand why the graduate student testing numbers are so high…With more than a thousand people on or near our campus, we are like a small town, and we cannot expect the incidence rate to be zero.”

Let’s Keep Harvard Healthy is the new messaging

In the past seven days, the dashboard shows, Harvard University has only ten positive cases of coronavirus out of 7,762 tents for a positivity rate of a mere 0.1% (see dashboard below). That compares with a 1% positivity rate for the entire state of Massachusetts over the past seven days, a 1.82% rate for Boston over the last 14 days and a 0.31% rate for Cambridge over the same timeframe. Since June 1, Harvard has had 25 positive cases out of 22,364 COVID tests: 13 among faculty and staff, nine among graduate students, and three among undergrads.

The Harvard dashboard of COVID cases

The school expects HBS-specific data to be published. “For now,” adds Crispi and Nohria, “we all can be grateful that the number of positive results remains quite low.”

“We always hope that HBS will exemplify a well-run organization, and that is our highest wish today,” added Nohria and Crispi. “In the most difficult of circumstances, can we—together—demonstrate a commitment to our mission that is a model for the University? We need everyone’s partnership to succeed, and we’re counting on everyone to play their part… by wearing masks, by avoiding risky gatherings, by maintaining physical distancing.

Outside on the Harvard Business School campus


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