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Why can’t we learn to Share?

It’s amazing how much we talk about cohesive organizations, cross-functional collaborations, and synergies in classes, but when it comes to sharing alumni rosters, there’s a pervasive stalemate between different schools and colleges at Harvard.

This article is about the reluctance of different schools and colleges in universities to share their alumni networks with each other. Harvard is no different – and one could argue in times such as the ones we face, sharing alumni databases for students to network (not to raise funds) might be a simple opportunity that we’re missing.

Let’s see.

Do organizations for which HBS alumni work hire undergraduates? Do organizations for which Harvard College alumni work hire MBAs? Would it help career-switchers in HBS who’re targeting healthcare firms (one of the few sectors that’s hiring) to network with HMS and HSPH alumni? Would it be a good idea for HBS, HLS, and KSG students and alumni interested in public policy to be able to hobnob with each other?

Vehemently, definitely, absolutely, obviously, and unequivocally: YES.

Can students across different colleges and schools at Harvard look up alumni from different schools and network with them?

Vehemently, definitely, absolutely, blasphemously, and unequivocally: NO.

Let’s consider the common arguments presented to justify this lack of sharing:

Other universities don’t allow sharing across departments either. This is a bit of a “monkey see, monkey do” argument. Leaders don’t fall in line with what their peers are satisfied with; they think of whether it makes sense to change status quo.

Alumni help raise funds. These are tough times for every school at Harvard. This is a prized resource which we just can’t share. Fine, we may not collaborate to fundraise. But can’t we collaborate for widening students’ networks and advisory resources? These are tough times indeed; perhaps students would benefit from casting their nets wider.

Politics. Seriously? Even as a leading university we can’t set aside politics to work on this? Much like we expect the Congress to foster bipartisanship, I think we should rise above internal politics and make this happen for the larger good of the student body.

Alumni wouldn’t like it. We can ask alumni to “opt in” to receiving emails from students of other schools. Alumni won’t get unsolicited email.

In an increasingly global, cross-functional world, where students from our generation often switch jobs and even whole careers, in the backdrop of Harvard’s recent and delayed recognition that it needs to unify as a university and encourage interdisciplinary interactions, and in the current context of a noteworthy economic upheaval where students are hard pressed for resources, it is a no-brainer that we should break down our segregated fortresses to facilitate such interactions across the student body and alumni base.

March 2, 2009

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