At More Than 100 Leading Business Schools, Fall Reopening Plans Forge Ahead

Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA students will soon be back on campus, as the GSB is among the vast majority of U.S. B-schools planning fully in-person classes for the fall quarter. Stanford photo

Coronavirus was on the ropes. Things were looking so good in the United States that business schools were confident the autumn MBA intake would look more like 2019’s than 2020’s.

That was six months ago. Now, Covid-19 cases are spiking again as the summer wanes. But invested in the momentum of a return to normalcy, most B-schools are pressing forward with plans for in-person instruction, with a growing number requiring their students to prove they have been vaccinated against the disease that has killed hundreds of thousands in the U.S. and millions worldwide.

In an analysis of the top 100 ranked U.S. schools and several from Europe, Poets&Quants found that all have announced plans to open for in-person instruction when their full-time MBA students arrive in August and September. While most still are not demanding that students be vaccinated, many are — including nearly all the top-25 schools — and every school strongly encourages it.


Emory Goizueta’s Brian Mitchell: “We are looking forward to being back on campus, fully in-person for the fall semester”

Pandemic reality changes almost daily. In the U.S., widespread access to vaccines had been driving case and death numbers steadily down through the first half of 2021; that is no longer true. In Europe and Asia (and particularly India), control of the pandemic that began in March 2020 never seemed as certain; wild fluctuations in cases continue to flummox health and government officials, and by turns enervate and enrage exhausted populations.

Everywhere, people are tired of lockdowns, mask requirements, school and society closures. But a return to normalcy again seems far off — in some ways, frustratingly, further off than ever.

B-schools must look through a murky lens in deciding how to proceed in the second fall of the Covid-19 pandemic. So far, nearly all of the schools examined by Poets&Quants, including all but a handful of the 100 schools in our most recent ranking, have told their students to plan for in-person classes — but also to expect the continued deployment of such safety measures as social distancing and mask wearing. Meanwhile, a growing number — 51 of 105 schools — will in fact make attendance contingent on proof of vaccination. However, that group includes none of the five European schools we looked at.

In the top 25, vaccination as a requirement is the rule, not the exception. Twenty-two schools say if you haven’t gotten the jab, don’t bother coming to class. However, all make exceptions for medical or religious reasons.

Among the group of B-schools requiring vaccination, all are following the lead of their universities. UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business is following not just a university-wide mandate, says Pete Johnson, assistant dean for the full-time MBA program and admissions, but a UC-system-wide dictum. UC’s vaccination requirement goes into effect August 4, but there are exceptions “based on a Medical Exemption, Disability Accommodation, or Religious Objection; pregnant individuals may also request a deferral for the duration of the pregnancy,” Johnson says.

“Students with approved exemptions or accommodations may return to campus with the requirement that they remain masked in all public settings, and will be required to have a Covid-19 test every week. In the rare case that a student is unable to attend due to an approved exemption, we will make an effort to enable them to follow classes remotely, although it will not be possible for all classes.” Most of Haas’ peer schools have posted similar language.


File photo

Following a highly publicized federal court ruling Monday (July 19) in which a judge upheld Indiana University’s requirement for vaccination — rejecting students’ contention that the mandate was unconstitutional — the Kelley School of Business announced that it would follow IU’s lead in requiring all MBA students to be vaccinated before coming to campus. “We are very proud of Indiana University’s and the Kelley School’s efforts to keep our students, faculty, and staff safe and healthy during the pandemic,” Gale Gold Nichols, executive director of Kelley’s full-time MBA program, tells P&Q. “We have confidence in the ongoing measures that have been established, and we look forward to a great year ahead with our new and returning students.”

Emory University Goizueta Business School has added the Covid-19 vaccine to its vaccine requirements for students, says Brian Mitchell, associate dean of the full-time MBA program at the Atlanta B-school. However, a student may still refuse to get vaccinated, in which case they must submit to weekly Covid-19 testing. “As long as they test negative for Covid-19 they will be allowed to attend classes in-person,” Mitchell says. “If a student tests positive for Covid-19 they will work with faculty members on an individual academic continuity plan based on their individual circumstances.

“We are looking forward to being back on campus, fully in-person for the fall semester. We have had an excellent experience this summer with our one-year MBA program being fully in-person. We still require face masks when we are indoors, and we expect to hear from the university soon on whether our mask requirement will remain in place when we begin the fall semester.”

And at Michigan Ross, where faculty and staff are preparing for a return to in-person learning this fall, all students should plan to be back on campus. Those who do not live on campus are not yet required to be vaccinated, says Dana Alger from U-M Public Affairs, but that many change by the end of July.

“We strongly recommend that our students, faculty, and staff get vaccinated,” Alger says. “As University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel announced, the university will require vaccines for all students living on campus. We will continue to monitor the visa processing and travel restrictions situation for our international students and do everything we can to support and advocate for them so they can pursue their studies this fall.

“University officials continue to monitor the important measure of vaccination among the U-M community, along with an assessment of the spread of Covid-19 in the local and regional communities, in order to make a decision regarding fall masking requirements in classes by July 31.” 

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