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Dean's Memo Stirs Awareness and Reflection

On Monday, December 12, MBA Program Director and Dean Carl Kester sent a memo to the full MBA student body about “standards and expectations regarding professional behavior.” In it, he highlighted six behavioral themes that included class attendance, behavior in public spaces on campus and at off-campus events, and classroom decor.

While Dean Kester acknowledged unspecified “disruptive” incidents that instigated his memo, he also noted that “geopolitical events and economic trends have added substantially to our anxieties.” He added, “These are stressful times, but it is during such times that our true measure as an intellectual community dedicated to the development of leaders will be taken.”

Like Dean Kester stated, some students speculate that the extremeties of September 11th combined with the U.S. economic slowdown create an unusually tense environment and require unusual avenues of release compared with past years. Students have been observed conga-dancing in Spangler Hall and reciting loud cheers in common areas near active classrooms.

Dean Kester wrote, “It is altogether appropriate that we should enjoy those diversions that help balance our lives and celebrate the good cheer to be found in each other’s company.” Still, in such a charged environment in recent months, exactly where to draw the line between those “appropriate diversions” and unprofessional behavior is becoming more complicated.

Said John Stone, (NB) Community Standards Representative, “Yes, things like this take a while to develop and require a lot of determination and attention from the leaders of an organization. We have to make sure we are sending consistent and clear messages to the general student body.”
On this point exactly, the administration and designated student leaders are already working on these issues and say they are trying to strike the right balance by issuing more helpful behavior guidelines so that students do not feel overly scrutinized. Says Chris Crane (OB), one of three students on the Community Standards Committee with Margaret Howell (OF) and Maria Molland (OI), “One of my projects for the next two weeks is to attempt to put together some sort of language that clearly differentiates a Community Standards Violation (sexual harassment, violence, breach of academic integrity) from something that merely irritates [the community] or violates group norms.”

Section Community Standards Representatives are also working to strike a balance. Says Stone of his own section (NB), “We have taken on issues in-house and actually made positive changes by emphasizing the spirit of the standards and by avoiding pointless discussions of what is the specific laundry list of violations,” which he understands may have set an overly harsh tone in years past. Indeed, after the memo was released, some students spoke of an impending “crackdown.”

Crane and the Community Standards Committee are sensitive to this concern and suggest it may be a mischaracterization of what is happening. Crane says sometimes people use or hear the words “Community Standards Violation” when “we really mean something more along the lines of ‘Common Sense Violation’ or ‘Breach of HBS’s Academic Administration Policy.'” The latter would imply lesser offenses than full Community Standards Violations.

In fact, Dean Kester’s memo made no mention at all of Community Standards Violations. Says Crane, “It is no accident he wrote it this way.” Both the administration and the Community Standards Committee want to help guide behavior without communicating in a punitive or threatening tone. Some students found success in the Dean’s memo. Said Geoff Henry, (NE) Community Standards Representative, “I think the memo served as a healthy reminder of the kind of atmosphere we are trying to both create and maintain here at HBS.”

In his memo, Dean Kester walked a delicate line, but as a result, some students felt the core message may have become confused. Stone said he and his classmates felt the memo was a bit “vague and unclear as to what its purpose was.” Henry said, “I was surprised that the Community Standards Reps were not informed of the memo’s forthcoming.” Both agreed and suggested that Community Standards Representatives might have helped further the message had they been given the memo with some explanation in advance. “You know, that whole ’empowerment’ thing from LEAD,” said Stone.

Wrote Dean Kester, “I know that many students are acting with the utmost responsibility and have been exemplary in their professional conduct.” He concluded, “Let us always and everywhere hold ourselves to those high standards of professional conduct that distinguish us as a community of leaders worthy of society’s trust and support.”

Additional resources regarding Community Standards can be accessed via the intranet at //www.mba.hbs.edu/admin/program/policies/conduct/community_standards/key_docs.html.

January 14, 2002
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