COVID Backlash At Kellogg: MBA Students Protest Low Volume Of In-Person Classes

MBA students at Kellogg are protesting limited access to the Global Hub because of a low amount of planned in-person classes in the spring quarter. File photo

There’s a storm brewing on the shores of Lake Michigan, and it has nothing to do with the weather. MBA students in the one- and two-year MBA programs at Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management are protesting the school’s decision to restrict hybrid/in-person learning to just 16% of spring quarter classes as a precaution against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to messages from students to school leadership leaked to Poets&Quants on Thursday (February 11).

Students, responding to information shared during a recent virtual Q&A session with Deputy Dean Sunil Chopra, say the school misled them through the winter about the amount of virtual MBA classes they could expect when spring quarter begins at the end of March. More than 400 have signed a petition registering their disappointment, according to students who asked for anonymity, leading to the school delaying spring quarter class-bidding the day before it was scheduled to begin. The bidding now will take place February 19.

Students say restrictions put in place because of Covid-19 are understandable — but decreasing access to Kellogg’s main building, the Global Hub, where most MBA classes are held, is overkill because no one has gotten sick there.

“Kellogg has just delayed spring quarter class-bidding the day before it started because after the administration tried to slip it by students that only 16% of classes would have a hybrid component in the spring, a petition with over 400 signatures was sent to Dean Chopra,” one student writes. “This all happened despite having several webinars where the Covid task force has admitted that they have yet to contract trace a single person getting sick in the Global Hub.”


Kellogg Deputy Dean Sunil Chopra

Another MBA student echoes the concerns about the lack of in-person or hybrid options for spring quarter, saying about 40% of fall classes had a hybrid/in-person element, and since no one has gotten sick, it makes no sense for that number to go down in the spring.

“We heard a lot of messaging from the administration in December & January that they would expand opportunities to use the Hub in winter,” the student writes. “Yet, less than a quarter of classes were offered in person in Winter and the Hub has been completely inaccessible for 4 out of 6 weeks of the quarter. Hearing that our access to the Hub is being even further limited next quarter is frustrating and disappointing for many of us.”

And an international full-time MBA student, who joined the fall cohort late because travel to the U.S. was restricted by the pandemic, says the highlight of the MBA experience so far was the brief period before Thanksgiving when campus visits were possible. Now, to discover “that next quarter only 16% of the classes will get the hybrid/in-person component is just overwhelming and frustrating. I worked so hard to get here and left so much in my home country to get the Full Kellogg Experience and experience in-person classes, and not being able to do it is very frustrating.

“I know we are in unprecedented times, and I do not take that lightly,” the international student continues. “Covid as a driver in how classes are held is understandable. But hearing today in the ‘Q&A with Deputy Dean Sunil Chopra on Spring Modalities’ session that the 16% decision was taken due to TCE data and not Covid issues is disappointing.”


In a statement to P&Q on Friday, Chopra, who is also Kellogg’s IBM professor of operations management and information systems, acknowledges the unusual circumstances. “We recognize that this has been a tough year for our students — especially those graduating in a few short months,” he says. “Few could have anticipated that we would still be operating in a Covid-19 environment nearly a year later. Through this period, our students have been great partners in shaping a distinctive Kellogg experience, providing candid feedback and real solutions as we work together to address disruption.”

The week-long delay in spring class-bidding is to allow the school time to finalize its offerings, Chopra says, “and ensure that students have full visibility into, and understanding of, the various learning modalities prior to making course-bidding decisions. As always, at Kellogg we are committed to partnering with our students to deliver the best possible learning experience.”

Chopra’s lengthy and detailed statement includes descriptions of the school’s five modes of course delivery, including 100% in-person; hybrid, “in which the professor teaches in-person to a group of students, with an additional group learning live remotely”; and “Students Together,” referred to by Kellogg students as “Zoom together,” in which a group of students attends class together in the Global Hub while the professor teaches remotely from elsewhere. He does indicate how much of each mode the school plans to use in the upcoming quarter.

“Over time, we’ve evolved our portfolio of learning options based on these insights — always with the goal of meeting the needs and addressing the range of preferences of our diverse student body,” Chopra says.


But in a message to Chopra shared with P&Q, another MBA student writes that Kellogg may be miscalculating support for a mostly remote spring learning experience based on a poll of student comfort level with the virtual delivery of classes.

“I believe the current amount of in-person offerings for spring is an over-indexing of preferences that leaves the second-years and 1Ys with little opportunity to be in the Hub for their final quarter,” the student writes. “The Class of 2021 has had our ‘pay it forward’ on overdrive this year as we worked tirelessly to replicate almost all of Kellogg’s marquee events in a virtual world. Given this, and Kellogg’s demonstrated ability to pivot, we would appreciate some consideration to help us make the most we can of our last ten weeks as part of the on-campus community. Specifically, we are asking for more in-person and hybrid options for our Spring classes.”

Adds the international student who struggled to get to the U.S. last fall: “I am just a first-year. I cannot begin to imagine how my fellow 1Ys and 2nd year students might be feeling. … The expectations I had for the Kellogg experience versus what the reality is today and for the near future, is just devastating for me.”


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