“This year, I paid $75k to mostly sit in my apartment, stare at my classmates through a computer screen, and be treated like a delinquent rather than someone who was doing her best to abide by Sloan’s policies…Right now it feels like robbery.”
In just a few sentences on an internal Slack channel at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, a frustrated MBA student summed up what many MBA students may be feeling as the pandemic moves into its second year. But for Sloan students, in particular, there is a greater sense of exasperation and bitterness.
The critical Slack message, one of dozens that clogged the school’s channel this week, occurred after the school announced that students would have to go for three COVID tests a week if they wanted to continue to come to campus for the remaining six weeks of classes. The more restrictive policy, put in place without evidence of a new outbreak of COVID, riled many of the school’s MBA candidates, becoming something of a breaking point for a frustrating and disappointing year.
The uproar among Sloan’s MBA students caused the school to do a quick about-face. Within hours, the new policy–outlined in an email from Senior Associate Dean Jake Cohen–was reversed by Dean David Schmittlein. But students remain annoyed if not angry over what they perceive to be a less-than-responsive senior leadership. Some are proposing that Sloan give back some of their tuition fees to account for the remote classes. “I have massive admiration and respect for my classmates and professors, but I STRONGLY encourage a reimbursement program (refunds, discounts, or credits) that fairly reflects the program’s reduced value,” argues the Slack writer who feels as if she has been robbed.
CURRENT POSITIVITY RATE AT MIT IS LOWER THAN 2%
She is hardly alone. “Dozens, if not more than 100 students, erupted on the internal school Slack, frustrated about the escalations perceived to be in conflict with CDC guidance and harsher than even MIT’s fairly restrictive policies,” one current student who chose to remain anonymous told Poets&Quants via email. “What we saw was catharsis from the student body after a year of perceived antagonism from the administration — despite a less than 0.2% positivity rate, widespread access to vaccines, and more than a quarter of the student body already with natural immunity to COVID.”
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.
AN ACADEMIC YEAR OF FRUSTRATION HITS A BREAKING POINT
But for many students, yesterday’s email was just the proverbial straw that broke the back of a year of frustration and disappointment. “From a town hall with MIT leadership in the fall, where the institute’s chancellor dismissed first-year MBAs as ‘not really part of the MIT community yet’ to a threat from Sloan leadership that the school would lay off temporary hourly staff if hybrid classes returned online — despite the fact that Sloan administration officials have taken no cut in their high six-figure salaries,” the current Sloan student told us. “Second years are upset that an in-person commencement is dangled over their heads, though Sloan contends that this is no possible option anyway.
“Unlike at peer schools,” the student continues, “MIT facilities like the library, gym, and most MIT buildings have been off-limits for large periods of time. First years have never had a two-way interaction with Dean Schmittlein or senior Sloan officials, and are frustrated that they are treated more like 18-year-old freshmen, rather than adults with real-life experience.”
One immediate result: Some students are now organizing petitions to gain commitments from their classmates not to donate to the school in the years following graduation. They are urging others to share their experiences “more openly” with both applicants to Sloan and admitted students.
ONE INTERNATIONAL STUDENT CLAIMS THEY WERE THREATENED TO BE LOCKED OUT OF CAMPUS HOUSING
The Sloanie who reached out to Poets&Quants shared several screenshots and messages from Sloan’s Slack channel. One message, which followed a message from Suzy Nelson, the vice president and dean for Student Life at MIT, threatened to lock a student out of their on-campus housing if they did not take an immediate COVID-19 test. “Our records show that you have not tested yet today, and you must do so by 6pm at the Johnson Testing Facility (or by 4pm at Medical),” the message reads. “Additionally, you will need to test next week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Failure to test will result in you being locked out of your on-campus housing.”
The international student who received the message had already completed that test. “Being threatened with eviction for not testing on dates set arbitrarily and announced with less than a day notice is not right,” the student responded, also via Slack. “Furthermore, I am not sure it is even legal. But ultimately, it is not what I had expected from an MIT institution which prides itself on constructing a welcoming community.”
Another student vocalized their frustration with Sloan’s unwillingness to work with students dealing with difficult circumstances. “Last week, I severely sprained my ankle which caused me to get off my testing cadence,” the student writes on the school’s Slack channel. “Despite this, I went to get a test Wednesday and planned to test again Saturday (not realizing that MIT is not doing ANY testing on the weekends). Given my circumstances, I asked in this channel if there was SOMEONE who I could talk to about my individual circumstance.”
The student reported their questions were left unanswered. When that student showed up to class, they were told they didn’t have access and were turned away. “All I’m asking is that Slon make a genuine effort to respond fully and timely to student questions,” the student concluded.
THE EMAIL THAT LEFT STUDENTS ‘APPALLED’
And then the email on Thursday came, setting off dozens of frustrated messages back to the administration.
“I am a military officer and must travel out of state for military work in the coming weeks (leaving on Thursday night),” one student wrote. “Because I will miss Friday am I now banned from campus? This negatively affects many military members.”
Said another: “I live on campus, and am required to test 2x a week to access housing, gym and dining. But I cannot access Sloan campus today since I ‘only’ had two tests last week…What’s the rationale for Sloan to enforce this more than the rest of MIT???Seriously do we get tuition refund? It is not fair for people following the rules to make the in person experience but you keep changing the rules and making them more and more ridiculous.”
Many simply voiced the frustration that Sloan administration seemed to make changes without consulting with students.
Said another: “I am curious if any other top business school is following similar protocol as Sloan. As far as I have heard from my friends in other schools, I don’t think that any other business school is coming out with new and stricter policies every week to make it a worse experience for students. If that’s the case, why does Sloan think of us only as liability and not as humans / equal stakeholders in the process for deciding how our MBA experience should be?!”
However, at least a few students have defended the administration, saying they’re doing the best they can with a situation like the pandemic.
“Sloan was one of the most proactive programs in the country for starting with in-person classes in the fall and has spent a tremendous amount of money (with the rest of MIT) to ensure seamless access to testing from the very start,” one Reddit commenter said. “They’ve definitely been trying hard, despite their missteps and occasional tone deaf policy implementation.”
‘I DID NOT RECEIVE ANYWHERE NEAR THE VALUE OF TUITION THIS YEAR’
What a lot of the frustration and anger seems to be coming down to is the situation of earning an MBA during a pandemic in general.
“I did not receive anywhere near the value of tuition this year,” lamented one student. “Many of us moved away from our homes, put our careers on hold, and took on student loans with hope that if one institution could manage an MBA program during a pandemic, it’s MIT.”
Not to mention, frustration with what they deemed poor leadership from a management school. “If you are seeking a lesson in innovative or principled leadership, look to Sloan and do the opposite,” another student wrote. “MIT has shown that its values are hollow throughout the year and this latest reactionary decision has further shown its inability to teach the things we are supposed to learn.”
Another concluded: “When it comes to business schools, net promoter score matters. Yet when I catch up with colleagues I worked with over the summer at CBS, Wharton, HBS, GSB, Booth, or Haas they do not have the same complaints. Will I be able to recommend MIT to applicants or admits? Sadly, I’m undecided. Which is a very different answer than I would have given in February of 2020. Institutional leadership matters.”