Hours after implementing stricter COVID-19 testing and travel policies, MIT’s Sloan School of Management reversed course amid fierce pushback from students. This morning’s email from MIT Sloan leadership stated that all students wanting to access the Sloan School of Management‘s campus at MIT would first need to take three different COVID-19 tests, beginning Monday, April 12. If they failed to do so, they would be banned from campus — and a potential in-person graduation — for the remainder of the semester and required to attend all classes remotely.
The new policy caused an immediate uproar. Dozens of students erupted on the internal school Slack, frustrated by what they perceived to be harsher guidelines than MIT’s fairly restrictive policies, despite the university’s low positivity rates on COVID tests. “Students recognized that the MBA experience would be different in the pandemic, but are upset about the lack of partnership from the administration and the feeling of being gypped at the world’s most expensive MBA program,” says one Sloan MBA who reached out to Poets&Quants. “Unlike at peer schools, MIT facilities like the library, gym, and most MIT buildings have been off-limits for large periods of time. First years are frustrated that they are treated more like 18 year old freshmen, rather than adults with real-life experience.”
But an email later in the day from MIT Sloan Dean David Schmittlein said the school would be pausing those policy changes.
The university’s COVID dashboard does not break out statistics on individual schools such as Sloan. But students complain that current test results would give no reason for the more restrictive policies. In its latest update, MIT itself notes that the “risk of transmission on the MIT campus remains low. This past week’s positive cases represent 0.17% of all COVID-19 tests conducted at MIT between 03/28/2021 and 04/03/2021. For comparison, the current seven-day percentage average for positive tests is 2.36% in Massachusetts and the current 14-day average for positive tests is 0.56% in Cambridge.”
Since then, the positivity rate has declined further to just 0.11% in the past week with 25 positive cases of COVID, including 10 students and 11 employees, out of 23,127 tests. Some 58 members of the MIT community are currently in isolated and 87 are reported in quarantine.
STUDENTS WHO FAIL TO GET TESTED THREE TIMES A WEEK WILL LOSE ACCESS TO CAMPUS FOR THE REST OF THE SEMESTER
According to the original email sent to students today (April 8) from Jake Cohen, MIT Sloan’s senior associate dean of Undergraduate and Master’s Programs, “all students who wish to access campus must test on Mondays and Fridays as well as an additional third day of their choice each week,” unless they’ve been directed not to do so by campus medical teams. The testing requirement was scheduled to last the rest of the semester, until the last day of classes on May 20, the email said.
“Each Friday, beginning April 16, MIT Sloan will review the week’s testing data,” Cohen’ wrote in the email obtained by Poets&Quants. “Those students who have tested as required will have access to campus the following week. Those who have not met testing requirements will lose access to campus for the remainder of the semester, including for any potential commencement-related activities or events.”
Some exceptions would be considered “for serious extenuating circumstances,” like medical or family emergencies or a religious holiday, the email said. “Students who were registered for in-person classes in H3 who did not take a COVID-19 test at MIT at all during the term will be considered remote for the rest of the year,” Cohen said in the email. “We assume that these students do not intend to access campus since they have not been testing.”
STUDENTS MUST REGISTER ANY AND ALL OVERNIGHT TRAVEL
For the rest of the semester, Sloan would also be requiring students to register for all overnight travel. The school would also require all students to test upon return. Unvaccinated students are required to quarantine after travel. “Unvaccinated students must quarantine, which means largely staying home and avoiding non-essential activity, as well as not interacting with other students and members of the community, until they receive a negative COVID-19 test result. Vaccinated students must test but may access campus prior to receiving their test result,” the email stated.
If students travel without registering, the email said those students would be referred to the Committee on Discipline. “Participating in or organizing group travel is considered a violation of the events policy and will be referred to the COD, if identified outside the confidential contact tracing process,” the email stated.
Off-campus gatherings “identified outside the confidential contact tracing process that exceeds MIT’s guidelines” would also be referred to the Committee on Discipline.
“We have developed this new approach to provide the best chance for us to continue with in-person learning experiences for those who value them,” the email concluded. “We greatly appreciate the efforts of those students who are following MIT guidance to keep their classmates, neighbors, and MIT Sloan staff and faculty safe.”
‘VAST MAJORITY OF STUDENT POPULATION IS INCREDIBLY DISAPPOINTED AND ANGRY’
Not surprisingly, these restrictions were met with early frustration and pushback from current students.
“Our understanding is that neither the faculty nor the student Senate was even informed about this policy change ahead of time, much less consulted with,” one student told Poets&Quants, noting “the vast majority of the student population is incredibly disappointed and angry.” That student said they’ve already heard other students are potentially organizing a socially distanced protest.
Last fall, MIT Sloan moved all classes online after students were caught partying. Tensions have run high between some MBA students and B-school administrations as those groups of MBA students have sought out a more normal MBA experience, traveling, gathering in large groups, and attending in-person classes while administrators try to stop or slow the spread of the Coronavirus.
DEAN SCHMITTLEIN REVERSES COVID-RELATED TESTING AND RESTRICTIONS
Later this evening, a follow-up email was sent from Schmittlein.
“In the email and policies set forth this morning, MIT Sloan attempted to create a path for you, as students, to opt into being on campus for the remainder of the semester without ongoing, extended campus closures,” Schmittlein said. “Further, it was part of our continuing effort to ensure the health and safety of the community. However, it was not intended to create a burden for those of you who continue to follow your testing cadence and access campus safely.
The email said MIT Sloan would resume its normal testing cadence.
“We will continue to assess these policy decisions with key indicators available to us, including Covid Pass status and number of viral tests,” Schmeittlein wrote. “We continue to expect you to register your travel with MIT and cooperate with confidential contact tracers at MIT Medical. There continues to be a risk that we will have to move to an entirely remote system, based on this data.
“Throughout this year, the school’s intention has been to have as many of you on campus as allowable, for as much of the time as possible. It has been challenging to accomplish this goal. It will remain a challenge this semester. Each person – faculty, staff, or student – who is affiliated with MIT Sloan has struggled with the effects of the pandemic. Please know that the school has done its best, and will continue to do its best, to support each of you, knowing that disappointment for some is an inevitable consequence of a global health crisis of this magnitude.”