Follow the rules or face the consequences.
MIT Sloan School of Management’s campus has been temporarily closed after students were caught gathering this week in violation of the university’s coronavirus rules. Now, school leadership says, Sloan’s ability to offer in-person classes for the rest of the semester may be “at risk.”
In an email message Wednesday, Sept. 16, to the entire Sloan community, Ezra Zuckerman Sivan, associate dean for teaching and learning, and Jake Cohen, senior associate dean of undergraduate and master’s programs, announced that all instruction has been moved online through Tuesday, Sept. 22, after the second of a pair of large student gatherings was reported in less than a week. The university’s protocols enacted to prevent the spread of Covid-19 forbid gatherings of more than 10 students.
All MBA, Sloan Fellows, undergraduate, and executive programs with in-person classes will be conducted virtually until Wednesday, Sept. 23, Sivan and Cohen wrote.
“We made this decision after learning that yesterday evening there was a student gathering that violated MIT Covid-19 rules and requirements,” they wrote. “This was the second such gathering we have learned of in less than a week and it occurred after first-year MBA classes were suspended in response to the first event. As will be detailed in a communication from Dean (David) Schmittlein later this week, this is more than disappointing. Our ability to continue in-person classes for the entire MIT Sloan community for the rest of the semester is at risk.”
GROUP OF STUDENTS FROM DIFFERENT PROGRAMS SEEN DRINKING IN PUBLIC
B-schools have had their hands full trying to keep students from gathering this fall, despite the risks and vociferous warnings. Earlier this month, Dartmouth College quarantined 23 Tuck School of Business students following a party at a grad-school dorm. In mid-August, UNC Kenan-Flagler-Flagler Business School reversed course and moved all instruction online for the duration of the fall term after two clusters of coronavirus cases were reported in campus residence halls. Many other schools threw up their hands at the prospect of trying to stop socializing even before students returned to campus.
The student gathering that prompted the suspension of in-person classes at MIT this week reportedly took place in Ahern Field in East Cambridge and involved more than two dozen students — well beyond the university’s limit. The students were observed close together without masks and drinking alcohol in public, Sivan and Cohen wrote in their email to the school community. “The information we received suggested that the gathering likely included students from different years and programs,” they wrote, “which is why we suspended in-person classes for all current students. Had we learned of the incident and its attendees sooner or received any information from students, we might have been able to respond in a more targeted way.”
The two signed their email “With regret.”
Asked by Poets&Quants for comment, university spokesperson Kimberly Allen emailed this reply (including links): “MIT’s approach to our fall academic planning has been conservative: most instruction is remote, and access to campus is limited. We are operating our research enterprise at reduced density, and most staff continue to work from home. Our testing results to date continue to indicate extremely low prevalence of Covid-19 on campus and, most encouragingly, we have not seen any indications of spread even as we carefully ramped up our on-campus research operations and brought back some undergraduate and graduate students. We have had 0 positive tests out of thousands of students and staff tested since Monday.
“Still, there is work to do, as underscored by reported gatherings of MIT Sloan graduate students in public parks. While these events took place outdoors, and are not known to have resulted in any cases of Covid, Dean Schmittlein nevertheless has made clear to students that this behavior is unacceptable. Out of an abundance of caution, all MIT Sloan classes will be fully remote through Tuesday, Sept. 22. This is a safety measure, as it will enable all students to complete two rounds of testing. (All on-campus test results, including those of MIT Sloan students, have been negative since Monday.) MIT Sloan senior faculty deans have also arranged virtual conversations with their students to reinforce expected behaviors and discuss how to move forward, together.
“More broadly, with our aggressive testing and access protocols, and with the hard work of Quarantine Week (onboarding the limited number of returning undergraduates) successfully completed, our leaders are emphasizing the importance of continued vigilance and compliance with our protocols and with those of our surrounding communities. Even with negative test results, it is critical that all members of our community wear a mask, practice physical distancing, and limit the size of gatherings. Community-wide and targeted communications continue on all of these points. Our internal discipline processes have been engaged and we continue to gather facts.
“MIT takes seriously our commitments to a safe and successful fall, both for our on-campus community and our neighbors.”
FEARS OF XENOPHOBIA AMID ‘PEER POLICING’
Umbereen Nehal, a student in the MIT Sloan Fellows MBA program who is attending classes remotely, responded to the news with a post on LinkedIn (quoted with permission):
“In-person classes are now remote after students were in a large outdoor gathering. As more and more universities report this, and I see and hear more references to ‘community,’ I am deeply concerned about how the real need for caution becomes universities encouraging peer policing that is prone to xenophobia.
“To be clear, I am 100% for following public health advice — that is why, arguably, the most responsible thing would have been to listen to health experts in July.
“Instead, various universities pushed forward with rules that change daily.”
Nehal, a medical doctor who lives in New York City, says she prefers not to have to “decide if I might be person #9 (okay) versus person #11 (not okay) at a gathering. We all know that human beings congregate and that grad students, especially business students, party.” And she decries the “ever-changing guidance and policies with seemingly draconian responses by some universities,” adding that they will be “followed by inevitable lawsuits.”
“Instead of the constant uncertainty,” Nehal writes, “I’ve just committed to writing off MBA social experience. Am fully focused on studies and independent projects, mostly through my pre-MBA connections.
“I think the Harvard schools that committed to being shut down were realistic and wise to just be fully virtual.”