Administration: Stay the Course

HBS administrators say they have largely been able to stick to their plan of preparing for the single-cohort Class of 2003 by drawing heavily on lessons learned prior to the introduction of the two-cohort system six years ago.

While the Crimson Greetings simulation posed some of the greatest practical problems, (click here for related article) administrators and faculty members have examined a wide range of issues over the past year, from the effectiveness of larger teaching groups to finding ways to continue to foster the spirit of innovation that the two-cohort system was designed to introduce.
In the end, they say they have come up with a slim
administrative structure that will have no problems meeting the needs of the new class.

Streamlining Administration
In place of the two cohort chairs-the roles played by Professors Michael Wheeler and Henry Reiling with the Class of 2002-Wheeler will take on sole “faculty chair” responsibility for the new class. Professor Joe Badaracco will continue to chair the elective curriculum.

MBA Program Chair W. Carl Kester, Wheeler, and Reiling all said they do not believe the change will have any impact on students, arguing that the cohort chair’s role, and especially its “ceremonial” functions at major mileposts during the MBA experience, can be easily scaled up to serve a larger base of students.

In making the decision, HBS could draw on past experience consolidating smaller groups.

In the two-cohort system’s early years, the September cohort was subdivided into “Red” and “Gold” divisions, each with its own faculty chair. But there was little evidence that that structure provided benefits to students.

“I don’t know that there was any reason for students to see themselves as affiliated with one or the other,” Wheeler said. “We duplicated the administrative work without really having any impact.”

And, taking the long-term view, Reiling noted that the resulting structure, with Kester chairing the program and a faculty chair for each class, was actually a dramatic increase over the level of administration that existed prior to the two-cohort system.

“Carl Kester’s predecessor was, in effect, cohort head – the head of the MBA Program had oversight for both years,” Reiling said.

Teaching Groups
One area where the scale could be an issue is in the size of the teaching groups of professors in the required curriculum classes, who meet regularly to discuss the lessons from upcoming cases and strategies for bringing those lessons out in the classroom.

Under the two-cohort system, January teaching groups have ranged from two to four professors, while September groups have ranged from four to six. Next fall, the groups will generally vary from six to eight, with occasionally as many as 10 different professors teaching the same course at the same time.
Wheeler, who is also currently serving as the Negotiations course head-a role he will relinquish at the end of the term-said the faculty is involved in an active debate over the optimal size of the teaching groups, and that their dynamics would be one of the major issues he monitors over the course of the next year.

“The January cohort has a lot of advantages, but one of the concerns has been that the teaching groups have been too small…you want to have a large enough group so that there is learning from one another,” he said.

However, he added that there are also concerns that a double-digit group would be too large. Prior to the two-cohort system, HBS had only nine sections, so the teaching groups never approached that level.

Driving Innovation
Both Wheeler and Kester said a top priority for them as the next year unfolds will be to make sure that the drive for innovation in the curriculum that originally sparked the January cohort’s development is not lost.
They said that effort has two fronts-dealing with both faculty and student expectations.

First, faculty members have to be encouraged to occasionally try alternative teaching methods in the classroom. Kester said the core concepts that make up the curriculum in each class won’t change, but the “pedagogical techniques” for conveying them might.

“There will be consistency as to the general content to be taught, but if some faculty has a novel idea as to how something should be taught – for instance, an exercise instead or a case – we do want to promote an environment where that is encouraged,” Kester said.

However, distinctions in the way different sections approach the same material will have to be explained to students.
“We socialize you into thinking that there is `one best way’ to teach a concept, but allowing some variety will allow people to teach from their own strengths,” Wheeler said. “It has to be accepted that what they’re doing in Section A won’t necessarily be how they do it in Section C.”

And Kester stressed that everything that gets into an HBS classroom will have been thought over carefully.
“Even within the two-cohort system, we were not going to innovate unless we thought something is a promising idea,” he said.