Party Pushes Chicago Booth To Remote Learning

Students work inside the Rothman Winter Garden at the Charles M. Harper Center, which houses the Chicago Booth School of Business (Photo by Joel Wintermantle)

After an off-campus party of Booth MBA students on Chicago’s North Side, Chicago’s Booth School of Business is moving classes fully online for at least two weeks. The gathering resulted in several full-time MBA students testing positive for the coronavirus with more than 100 MBA students required to quarantine for 14 days.

The shift to online learning from a hybrid format was announced in an email sent to the school community on Wednesday (Oct. 14) from Michele Rasmussen, the university’s dean of students, and Eric Heath, associate vice president for safety and security.

“Since the start of the Autumn Quarter, the vast majority of University community members have adopted the UChicago Health Pact and have made its requirements part of their daily routines,” the pair wrote in the email. “However, the Booth School of Business has learned that within the last week a large group of full-time MBA students congregated off-campus on Chicago’s North Side, many without wearing face coverings. Some individuals from that group have since tested positive for COVID-19.”


The school originally did not disclose how many students had tested positive for COVID, only saying that “some” were diagnosed as having the virus. In a follow-up email to the University of Chicago community sent Friday (October 16), the university said five Booth students had tested positive for COVID-19 this past week, and 40 additional students were considered “close contacts” by the school. “Testing of additional close contacts is proceeding, and the University will continue to monitor the situation,” the email also said.

Poets&Quants asked the school to elaborate more on when testing for those with close contact would be finished and to confirm if those five positive cases were linked directly to the large gathering, but the school declined to comment further. It is also unclear how many students got tested off-campus, if any.

In the week ended Oct. 15th, the university reported 36 total cases of COVID, up from 33 a week earlier and only eight two weeks ago. The university also reported 85 “close contacts” of others in the community who are known to have had contact with another person with a confirmed case of coronavirus. That is a big increase from the 32 close contacts a week earlier. The university does not break those figures out for the business school alone.

All students at the gathering have been told to quarantine and get tested, the original email states. Both Hyde Park and downtown campuses will be closed to all students for the next two weeks and “all classes will move to full remote teaching,” the email also said. “No other University courses outside of Booth are being moved to remote format.”

Students who did not attend the party were none too happy with their classmates. “I am saddened that my classmates decided to be so selfish and irresponsible,” wrote a first-year Boothie on Reddit who identified himself as Whiskeytango35. “I tried to prevent people from gathering through Slack, but they were all set on this. It’s crazy to think that such brilliant people can be so immature sometimes.”

Like most U.S. business schools, Booth had adopted a hybrid format, with most classes attended by limited numbers of students in person with the remaining students online. Some Booth professors, however, have agreed to only teach in an online format.


This is not the first time a business school campus has had to take action after MBA students gathered together in violation of restrictions. In mid-September, MIT’s Sloan School of Management temporarily closed its campus after students were caught gathering tin violation of the university’s coronavirus rules (see After MIT Sloan Students Caught Partying, School Moves All Instruction Online).

Rasmussen and Heath made it clear that returning to campus  “depends critically” on all students following the university’s public health pact to “the greatest extent possible.” To come to campus and attend class, students had to agree to the university’s health pact that among other things required that they follow all city and state restrictions on gatherings, including parties. The City of Chicago has prohibited gatherings and parties in private residences with more than six people who do not live in the household. Even in those circumstances, students were required to wear face coverings and maintain at least six feet of social distancing.

The university did not disclose if the gathering was in a private residence or a commercial establishment. City’s guidelines currently restrict get-togethers in private residences to only six people. If it was in a commercial space, any gathering of more than 50 people would be prohibited if just two peopole are within six feet of each other for more than ten minutes.

The page-long health pact has eight bullet-points instructing students on basic COVID-19 precautions. The third bullet-point asks students to “comply with on-campus and off-campus restrictions on social gatherings, including parties.” Students at the party had participated and cooperated with the University’s Contact Tracing Team, according to the email.


While other top B-schools have taken various approaches to the start of the fall semester, the Chicago’s Booth School, which happens to be one of the largest with 621 students enrolling this fall — up from 593 last fall — elected to start with a dual-modality format.  Late in August, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business announced it would switch from the planned hybrid approach to having courses “mostly online.” The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School also reversed course, moving all classes online after COVID-19 outbreaks in August.

Other schools planned for hybrid or online courses ahead of time. Yale’s School of Management had a goal of having 25% of first-year courses meet in-person with the rest online. While Harvard Business School broke with the majority of the rest of Harvard’s degree-granting schools to offer face-to-face courses, it took a parental approach, essentially instructing MBAs to behave once they did arrive on campus. In late July, The Wharton School also changed courses and move learning from a hybrid approach to fully online. Georgetown’s McDonough School also switched from hybrid learning to fully online at the end of July.


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