A New Year’s Eve party involving as many as 75 Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA students has been connected to a possible spike in coronavirus cases at Stanford University, according to a report published this week by The Stanford Daily, the university’s student-run newspaper.
The report, dated Feb. 3, says Stanford MBA students “repeatedly disregarded University and regional rules aimed at limiting the spread of the virus,” adding that a series of excursions — in particular a large party in Southern California that occurred when the region was a known coronavirus hotspot, but also trips to Lake Tahoe and other on- and off-campus gatherings — have resulted in known cases of students getting sick. The report cites an email to students from GSB Dean Jonathan Levin in which he points to an increase in COVID-19 cases in January after students returned from the party in Los Angeles County, which included 50 to 75 GSB MBA students at what some attending the gathering said was a mansion rented for the occasion.
Despite the location and time of the party, “at the Stanford GSB our expectations extend beyond these boundaries — we believe in service to the greater good at all times,” The Daily quoted Levin saying in the email. “This is a public health crisis, and in California, an acute period.”
“The shock among the student body is that there was a large party in Los Angeles, in a rented home with 50 or more people,” one anonymous GSB student told The Daily. “Obviously some part of the party was COVID-positive and infected a whole host of other people. That has become this well-established truism among anybody you speak to.”
LARGE LOS ANGELES GATHERING PART OF A PATTERN OF BREAKING CORONAVIRUS PROTOCOLS
If accurately reported, the GSB students not only broke Stanford’s Covid Campus Compact protocols — they also broke Los Angeles County laws, and could be charged with misdemeanors. Since November, L.A. County has prohibited any gatherings between individuals of different households.
But besides breaking state, regional, and local coronavirus protocols, the students could not have chosen a more dangerous location. L.A. County was the world’s epicenter of the virus at the time. More than 13,500 cases, on average, were reported daily in L.A. County in December.
The New Year’s party was not the only large-group getaway alleged to have occurred among GSB MBA students this academic year. The Daily’s report describes a string of large, unmasked gatherings including trips to Lake Tahoe, Napa Valley, and off-campus parties, as well as wine nights on campus.
Students told The Daily that their fellow classmates had more incentives and motivation to follow both campus and community guidelines last fall when they thought there was a chance they’d return to campus — but once it was announced that no in-person gatherings would be allowed, they increasingly became lax in following local and campus protocols. Santa Clara County, where Stanford’s campus resides, has had some of the strictest COVID protocols in the country, so much so that Stanford’s basketball teams have even been forced to play “home games” in nearby Santa Cruz.
DEAN LEVIN TO GSB MBAs: ‘WE EXPECT MORE THAN GOOD CITIZENSHIP FROM YOU — WE EXPECT LEADERSHIP’
On Thursday (February 4), the day after the story appeared in The Daily, Dean Levin wrote to students acknowledging the report and expressing disappointment in its contents. The school shared Levin’s email with Poets&Quants on Friday.
“Needless to say, it is disappointing and disheartening to see such a headline about the GSB,” Levin wrote. “The article does serve as a reminder that problematic behavior not only affects the health of our community, it reflects on all students. As I said before, we expect more than good citizenship from you — we expect leadership.
“Clearly, the Daily article does not reflect the attitudes or behavior of all students. We recognize and appreciate that most of you have behaved responsibly and thoughtfully. However, we must all continue to work together. Although vaccination is ramping up and better days are ahead, our actions over the coming months matter.”
Asked for the school’s official view of the report and student activities, the school responded by emphasizing its extensive pandemic protocols that apply to all students, faculty, and staff. GSB will continue to follow the protocols — laid out in the Stanford University Compact — “in order to limit transmission on campus and in the local community.” The compact “reflects state and local orders and provides clarity on local rules for students.”
AT TOP B-SCHOOLS, A WIDESPREAD DISREGARD FOR CORONAVIRUS RULES
Stanford GSB does not provide coronavirus case breakdowns beyond what is posted on the Stanford University Covid-19 Dashboard. However, students living on campus have to test twice a week; the dashboard reports the results. The most recent update as of Friday afternoon states that student testing numbers for the week starting January 25 included seven new, total positive cases. Employee testing numbers from the university’s testing program included eight cases last week. “Among students and employees, contact tracing and other observations do not provide evidence of on-campus community spread during this period of time,” the school tells P&Q. “Our leadership is committed to creating a safe environment and helping our community get through this difficult time.”
Perhaps more than other top B-schools, GSB grapples with two main issues that led to problems within the MBA program and made the school a focal point of the university when it comes to coronavirus cases. First is the nature of the MBA degree and the GSB’s culture, which relies strongly on networking and social gatherings. Second is a culture not to snitch on your classmates. According to the report in The Daily, the students who did come forward both to The Daily and to administrators did so only reluctantly, and after insisting on anonymity.
Stanford’s is not the only MBA program to grapple with scofflaws in the student ranks. Last November, Columbia Business School disciplined 70 MBA students after they broke the school’s travel restrictions by traveling as a group to Turks and Caicos. Chicago’s Booth School of Business was forced to move back to fully remote learning in October after a party involving nearly 100 students. Days after Booth went remote-only, its M7 neighbor, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, was forced to do the same after a spike of positive coronavirus cases resulting from a similar off-campus gathering.