Last week’s Harbus quoted Dr. Richard Kadison, Chief of Mental Health for all of University Health Services, describing a rut that several HBS students fall into. The way he described it, the rut begins with anxieties about the infamous HBS opening cold call. Because of those anxieties, students can lose sleep by over-preparing for class, and become even more anxious. In so doing, this can erode their performance and confidence and in some cases can lead to depression. This rut alone is reason enough to question the constructive utility of the cold call as a learning device.
But seemingly everyone at HBS, including Dr. Kadison, Dean Kester, Career Services, and student leaders, agree that these are extraordinary times. And these times call for extraordinary measures. Students already face a cold job market and a colder geopolitical environment frought with uncertainties; they do not need the even more frigid random pat-down to detect class preparation that is the cold call.
As Dean Kester wrote in his December memo, “[G]eopolitical events and economic trends have added substantially to our anxieties.” Few at HBS disagree. And as Dr. Kadison states in his professional opinion, the cold call only worsens anxieties. While some professors have shown exemplary measure by warning students prior to a cold call (the so-called “warm call”) or by simply asking for volunteer openers, other faculty have not. Therefore, it is time to relieve some of the current extraordinary tensions and formally enact a temporary moratorium on cold calls in all classes.
Class preparation should become a matter for classes and sections to monitor with professors on a holistic basis according to Community Standards, and the moratorium should be rescinded at the discretion of a professor should class preparation noticeably decline. Community Standards and Education Representatives should step in to monitor the overall effectiveness of student preparation and should mediate instances when effective class preparation may be questioned.
However, it is unlikely that a moratorium would cause significant change. Harvard Business School students are chosen on the basis of character, self-motivation, and clarity of purpose. We are proud of the opportunity to attend this institution, and we respect our responsibility to ourselves, each other, and our professors to be prepared for class and contribute to the learning experience of everyone involved. But we are human. And in times like these, our humanity requires compassion and flexibility. In the spirit of our Honor Code, and in the spirit of compassion, it is time to suspend the cold calls.