Harvard Business School Moves MBA Courses Online As Covid Cases Rise

2021 looks uncomfortably like 2020. Poets and Quants has learned that Harvard Business School is reverting to distance education for all freshman MBA courses after a “steady rise in breakthrough infections” among students. The move is effective this week, from September 27 to October 3.

Some second-year courses will also be taught remotely this week, the school said.

“In recent days, we have seen a steady increase in infections among our student body, despite high vaccination rates and frequent testing,” said Mark Cautela, communications manager at HBS. P&Q. “Contact tracers who have worked with positive cases emphasize that transmission does not occur in classrooms or other academic settings on campus. It also does not occur among masked individuals.

“With the support of leaders at Harvard University, advised by city and state public health officials, we have decided to move all first-year MBA students, and some sophomores, to distance learning for the week of 09/27 to 03/10. “


A screenshot of Harvard’s Keep HBS Healthy page

Cautela continues, “During this time, we also asked all students to eliminate unmasked indoor activities, to limit in-person interactions with other people outside of their homes, to move all group gatherings to line and cancel group trips. We have increased the frequency of testing to three times per week and we are also preparing a new daily email to all students to keep them fully informed on all aspects of the situation. ”

HBS’s move to distance education was announced with a line on its Keep HBS Healthy webpage, but students had been informed directly.

Adam Gaffin, founder and editor of the Boston-based community news site Universal Hub, wrote on Sunday, September 26: “In one of a series of messages to students, the school says it hopes a week of distance learning will put a stop to what is now an “active cluster” and prevent it from getting worse. He included the partial text of one of the messages:

“Harvard University leaders, advised by city and state public health officials, are now telling us that we need to view the MBA program as an active cluster and step up our approach – hit a ‘circuit breaker. “and face the virus rather than react to it. … Feedback from contact tracers who have worked with positive cases among our student body underscores that transmission does not occur in our classroom or other academic settings on our campus. It also does not occur among masked individuals. Rather, it happens as a result of many unmasked indoor activities – from sharing an Airbnb for the weekend, to dining in an apartment, to big parties.


Howard Forman, professor of management practice at the Yale School of Management and MD who also teaches at Yale’s School of Public Health, wrote September 24 on Twitter that Harvard was facing a “major epidemic” based at HBS, with a school B positivity rate 12 times higher than the rest of the university. Two-thirds of all Covid cases at Harvard are students of HBS, Forman wrote.

Sunday (September 26) it revisited the worsening situation: “The outbreak at Harvard (assuming it’s the HBS outbreak, continues) remains with 11 new graduate students testing positive in the last batch of tests. The school administration implores the students of HBS to avoid unmasked interior interactions. “

Harvard’s Covid-19 dashboard currently shows that most of the 68 positive tests among Harvard students and staff between September 20 and September 24 were for graduate students. The site doesn’t break down the numbers by school, but adds that 95% of all students and 96% of faculty and staff are fully immunized.


HBS has been here before. About 10 months ago, in November 2020, a wave of Covid-19 forced the school to move classes entirely online. The difference then was that the school was already using a “hybrid” teaching approach, with some classes being taught virtually and others in person; so it was easier to move everything online. This fall, like her peers and almost every other American B-school, Harvard used all of the in-person instruction, albeit with what she describes as a rigid testing, masking, and social distancing protocol.

Another difference compared to 2020: then, the passage online lasted until the end of the HBS fall semester. But this year’s classes only started a few weeks ago, at the end of August, which explains the week-long approach.

Classes transferred to distance education are primarily intended for “RC” students or first year students of the school’s “compulsory program”. “EC” students – in their second year of the “elective program” – are less affected, possibly because they followed the schools’ pandemic protocols better. As P&Q reported, last year’s cohort was one of the smallest in school history – and this year’s is the largest, with over 1,000 students.


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