In a year of unrest and tense political battles, the controversies that led to a tumultuous 2020 for many people across the globe infiltrated business school communities and campuses. From controversial social media posts to student revolts over tuition to racist outbursts, below are the most popular scandals and controversies we covered in 2020.
The “Part 1” refers to the fact that this wasn’t the only business school faculty member or administrator to draw negative attention from a social media post. Asheen Phansey, who was an adjunct professor and administrator at Babson College, made the mistake of trying — and failing — to make a joke about a bomb.
In case you forgot, back in January of 2020, outgoing President Donald Trump threatened to bomb cultural sites in Iran during a particularly tense week between the U.S. and Iran. In response, Phansey took to his Facebook account to jokingly suggest that Iran’s supreme leader “should tweet a list of 52 sites of cultural American heritage that he would bomb. Um … Mall of America? … Kardashian residence?”
We sincerely believe this was a joke. And Babson probably did as well. But in this day and age, when actual bombings and mass attacks happen on a way too-regular basis, this sort of comment crossed the line. It might be something you say in a WhatsApp group thread with your buddies. But not something you put on social media. Especially as a professor of a prominent business school.
“Babson College conducted a prompt and thorough investigation related to a post shared on a staff member’s personal Facebook page that does not represent the values and culture of the College. Based on the results of the investigation, the staff member is no longer a Babson College employee,” the college said in a statement back in January. “As we have previously stated, Babson College condemns any type of threatening words and/or actions condoning violence and/or hate.”
Soon after the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic forced universities around the world to shut-down in-person learning and move to online education, students came out demanding tuition reimbursements or reductions. Lawsuits were filed. Petitions were signed. And this wasn’t just a few frustrated students and some random universities. More than 700 MBA students at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business signed an online petition, saying that an online education is a “subpar classroom experience” and were demanding that tuition be cutback substantially for the new spring term.
At Columbia Business School, nearly 350 signed a similar petition. At the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, some 950 students signed a petition by mid-April. Students at Harvard Business School joined in days after the other schools. The frustration and pushback lasted into this fall when students at New York University’s Stern School of Business expressed anger when NYU raised tuition this fall.
As if would-be MBA applicants weren’t stressed enough, the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) didn’t help matters when it created its online version of the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) and left out the pen and paper scratchpad and replaced it with an online whiteboard feature. “With this new online format, the GMAT is about to become the first major standardized test to not allow students to take some form of handwritten notes,” one anxious test-taker told us after we broke the news about the scratch pad-less GMAT.
Soon after, also in April, hundreds of test-takers signed an online petition, demanding GMAC add back some sort of pen and notepad feature to the test. When asked for a comment on our original reporting, GMAC’s Vineet Chhabra, the global product and marketing head for the GMAT exam said: “We value market feedback and like all our products, will continuously explore ways to make the GMAT Online experience one that helps test takers perform their best on exam day.”
Eventually, the GMAC did add a physical whiteboard, which broadly appealed to most test-takers.