Coronavirus isn’t over, folks. Business schools, like universities and society as a whole, are still grappling with the realities of a highly contagious and debilitating, if not fatal, disease. But they also face new hurdles associated with the return this fall to in-person instruction on campus, combined with growing impatience with mitigation efforts and a widespread desire to return to normalcy.
The inevitable result is another outbreak of the disease — and that’s what has happened at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Poets&Quants has learned that so many cases of Covid-19 have occurred on the school’s campus in Evanston, Illimois since October 21 that Kellogg is sounding alarm bells, tightening restrictions, and begging MBA students, faculty, and others to adhere more conscientiously to safety measures.
“Since our most recent email last Friday, October 21, we have seen a consistently elevated number of positive Covid cases among Kellogg Full-Time students,” reads an email sent Monday (October 25) to all MBA students and signed by Greg Hanifee, associate dean and clinical assistant professor of management; Sunil Chopra, professor and deputy dean; and Danny Fisher, chief operating officer. “Additionally, the Evanston Department of Public Health expressed significant concern about the high number of cases at Northwestern as compared to Evanston and the surrounding areas. EDPH is looking to Kellogg students and leadership to address the situation before they feel the need to intervene. Contact tracing indicates that spread is occurring through large Kellogg and student-led social events and gatherings, not in classroom-related activities.”
As a result, the school is mandating twice-weekly testing and the cancellation of all student-led and Kellogg social events of more than 25 people through November 5.
KELLOGG SEES 54 NEW CASES FROM OCTOBER 15-21
In 2020 and the first half of 2021, B-schools’ chief problem with respect to coronavirus was keeping students from gathering off-campus in large numbers. Most schools banned parties or other gatherings; most nonetheless had rule-breakers in their ranks. Several top schools disciplined students for ignoring or flaunting coronavirus restrictions; others were forced to deal with the consequences of the unruly behavior when outbreaks resulted. Kellogg was not spared: Last October, the school was forced to step back from its hybrid teaching approach amid a jump in cases traced to off-campus gatherings.
The worst was yet to come: According to the school’s Covid-19 tracking, cases hit a high point in the third week of November 2020. By February, the school had moved so many classes online that students lodged a full-throated protest, as reported by P&Q.
This year, as most B-schools moved back to the classroom, schools faced a new problem: on-campus coronavirus transmission. It has happened elsewhere, including Harvard Business School, which was forced to put all classes online for a week in late September; now Kellogg is hoping to stop the disease’s advance before resorting to more restrictions — or even a fall-back to virtual instruction.
Kellogg’s Covid-19 “Dashboard” has not been updated since October 21. It currently shows a “Green” activity level with 57 new positive cases in the week between October 15 and October 21. Nearly 5,000 tests have been administered in that time. According to the school’s COO Danny Fisher, however, “There were 54 new confirmed Covid-19 cases among Kellogg students, faculty, or staff for the period covering Friday, October 15 through Thursday, October 21.” He adds, importantly, that “Contract tracing indicates that no transmission has occurred in the Kellogg Global Hub.”
‘NOT WHAT WE HOPED TO SEE’
Northwestern University requires Covid-19 vaccination for all faculty, staff, and students who work or study on-campus this year. There are some exceptions, but proof of vaccination is required to register for classes or show up for work. Fisher says Kellogg vaccination rates are “99% for students on our Evanston and Chicago campuses and 95% for employees.”
In their email to students on Monday, Hanifee, Chopra, and Fisher write that all students, regardless of vaccination status, must submit to twice-weekly Covid-19 testing. Additionally, they call for the cancellation of all student-led and Kellogg social events through November 5. An update is promised at that time.
“While these developments are not what we hoped to see, we are optimistic that by working together we can change the trajectory of the spread of the virus,” they write. “We appreciate your partnership and all you are doing to help us retain our ability to offer in-person experiences this fall and to support the health of our broader community.”
The complete email to Kellogg full-time MBA students is below.
Dear Full-Time students,
We are reaching out tonight with an update regarding testing requirements and social gathering limits over the next two weeks.
Since our most recent email last Friday, October 21, we have seen a consistently elevated number of positive COVID cases among Kellogg Full-Time students. Additionally, the Evanston Department of Public Health (EDPH) expressed significant concern about the high number of cases at Northwestern as compared to Evanston and the surrounding areas. EDPH is looking to Kellogg students and leadership to address the situation before they feel the need to intervene. Contact tracing indicates that spread is occurring through large Kellogg and student-led social events and gatherings, not in classroom-related activities.
With this in mind, in partnership with the Full-Time KSA leadership, we will implement the following protocols, effective immediately and lasting through at least Friday, November 5:
All Full-Time students, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to test twice per week. Testing should be completed at one of Northwestern’s testing facilities and should ideally be done 2-3 days apart. Testing facilities at the Jacobs Center and 345 E. Superior Street are open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
All student-led and Kellogg social events should be canceled, including on- and off-campus events. Student gatherings of up to 25 people may continue with reasonable precautions. Professional events (e.g., BMAC) may continue without attendance limits with proof of a negative test the day of the event. Discussions are ongoing with EDPH and we will notify you immediately if, in partnership with NU, they provide different guidance on maximum gathering size. If you are the organizer of a canceled event, please reach out to Dean Fran Langewisch to discuss options to support you.
We will hold office hours tomorrow on Tuesday, October 26 from 12:15 – 1:15 p.m. for any students who may have questions. A calendar invite is forthcoming.
If your test comes back positive, please cooperate fully with Northwestern contact tracing teams and follow university guidelines for positive cases.
If at any time you are experiencing symptoms, please stay at home until you have received a negative PCR test. If you will miss class due to illness or quarantine, please fill out the absence approval request form. Students who receive approval will either be able to join class by Zoom or will receive access to a class recording.
We will provide an update by November 5 to let you know if these protocols will continue beyond that date.
While these developments are not what we hoped to see, we are optimistic that by working together we can change the trajectory of the spread of the virus. We appreciate your partnership and all you are doing to help us retain our ability to offer in-person experiences this fall and to support the health of our broader community.
Clinical Assistant Professor of Management
Professor and Deputy Dean
Danny Fisher ’09
Chief Operating Officer