‘Woke’ Harvard Business School Finds Itself In A Twitter Storm

Harvard Business School welcomed its online learners to an on-campus Connext conference on May 14th when the unexpected happened

Harvard Business School warmly welcomed its online learners to campus this past weekend for a day of lectures, case study discussions and networking for the first time in three years. Nearly 3,900 online students and alumni registered for the event from 132 countries. But a funny thing happened after one of its most dynamic professors gave a keynote address on power: the school found itself in the midst of a Twitter storm, accused of promoting leftist ideas.

The one-day event on May 14th, delivered in a hybrid format, was organized around the topic “Reimagining Leadership.” But the lecture by Julie Battilana, a professor in HBS’ organizational behavior group and a professor of social innovation at Harvard’s Kennedy School, set off a number of online students.

“I came to @HarvardHBS hoping to learn a little bit about…business,” wrote Paulo Figueiredo Filho, who lists a pair of HBS Online certificates on entrepreneurship and negotiations on his LinkedIn profile. “Instead, I’m watching a lecture by Saul Alinsky on how to exert leftist power. Wow! Leftists turn EVERYTHING into ideological propaganda.”

He attached to his Tweet a picture of the professor in front of a massive Powerpoint slide outlining the three attributes of a social movement: agitate, innovate, and orchestrate. Agitators are deceived as those who “speak out against the status quo and raise public awareness of the problems.”

This Tweet fueled an anti-Harvard Business School Twitter storm

The “agitator” then encouraged others to protest what he termed “the ideological propaganda in the most important business school in the world” by leaving the following message, ‘Stop the leftist indoctrination at #HBSONLINECONNEXT,’ on Harvard Business School’s Twitter feed.

His comment sparked the kind of hate, trolling, and misinformation that has made many consider Twitter a toxic environment. More than 1,700 Twitter users liked his comment which was retweeted by more than 700 other users. Filho, who calls himself a businessman, journalist, and consultant, then followed up with yet another Tweet: “After Saul Alinsky… Maybe now Greta Thunberg? OMG…”

Dozens of other users chimed in, many in Spanish, to reinforce Filho’s criticism. “The new order, the leftopathy, in full swing,” wrote Paulo Cesarde Amorim, a language professor.

“I’m so glad I left academia long ago when I first noticed it’s a tool for mind enslavement, instead of mind expansion,” added RM. “It’s the new atheist church!,” wrote Fonseca Junior. “An indoctrinating cult of how to dominate minds and social groups, or even society as a whole!”

“Socialism only works in the hive and the anthill,” added Comandante VIEGAS, a self-described Naval officer, lawyer and business person. “When accompanied by Communism, it generates repression and deaths. Marxist indoctrination is an active cancer in the academic space. Stop the leftist indoctrination at #HBSONLINECONNEXT.”

“@HarvardHBS. What’s happening to you guys!!??! Shouldn’t be a place for ‘WOKE’ BS! #HBSONLINECONNEXT,” claimed Jayme Santos Neto, whose Twitter profile includes this line: “Not every liberal is dumb, not all Republicans are racist.”

Yet, the lecture that Paulo Figueiredo Filho said was delivered by Saul Alinsky was, in fact, delivered by Battilana, who studies and speaks on power dynamics. Alinsky, a well-known community organizer and social activist, died in 1972. In her work on power and social movements, the French-born Battilana merely cites Alinsky’s 1971 book, Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals.

But Alinsky has since become a preferred villain of the right-wingers largely because Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both seriously engaged with his ideas. Clinton, in fact, wrote her senior thesis about Alinsky. After she interviewed him for her paper, he offered her an organizing job, which she declined in favor of going to Yale Law School.

A panel discussion followed Battilana’s lecture entitled How to Foster a Racially Just, Inclusive, and Psychologically Safe Workplace, featuring Terrill Drake, HBS’s newly hired chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, and HBS Professor Lakshmi Ramarajan.

HBS Professor Julie Battilana

Not everyone was quick to claim that HBS had gone Woke and leftist. “After a fantastic keynote about #power by @HarvardHBS’s @julie_battilana, we are now in the middle of a live online case discussion about how to improve the #innovation potential of organizations with @MitchWei – I love it,” wrote Ulrike Boehm, a data scientist in Germany with Zeiss Group who completed HBS Online’s sequence of business fundamental courses in its Credential of Readiness program in 2020.

Willie Reaves, chief of staff at a Boston-based biotech who earned a certificate in disruptive strategy from Harvard Business School Online, echoed that enthusiasm. “I’m pumped to be at #HBSOnlineConnext! The conference was canceled the past two years due to the pandemic, but we’re back!,” he wrote.

And even Paulo Figueiredo Filho, who initiated the HBS hate chatter, later conceded in a final tweet nearly two and one-half hours after his initial critical missive:  “That was heavily ideological but a great class, I have to admit.”


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