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A Well Intended Hypocrisy

Lately, much ado has been made over virtual study groups and ever more widely circulated case write-ups. On the one hand, I can empathize with those students who feel that the administration is overly paternalistic.

After all, for thirty grand a year, shouldn’t we be able to decide when or when not to attend class? And shouldn’t we be mature enough to determine how we can best prepare for and learn from our classes when we are there?

On the other hand, I have to agree that learning from the ‘cliff notes’ isn’t exactly what I signed up to do. Sure, we all came to HBS for different reasons. Some to learn a new field in order to make a career shift.

Some to bolster our resumes. And some purely for the blissful two-year escape from reality. But I believe that we all came here expecting to learn a lot from one another. By signing up to be taught 100% by the case method, we put our trust in ourselves and in our peers to make the experience valuable. As such, if a third of the class hasn’t read the case and instead relies on the same write-up, how can we benefit from the breadth of talents and perspectives that the school brings together? Does the case method then become a handicap?

There is tremendous pressure to get the most out of HBS – to ‘transform’ ourselves in a mere 18 months. We strive to land a great job, to meet with CEOs and other captains of industry, and to establish a wide and deep network, which conveniently justifies drinking from bowls and dancing at the Kong until 3 am. Oftentimes, skimming on class preparation is the easiest and most efficient way to better manage our precious time. Sure, we can question whether we are to blame or whether the system and incentives (or lack of) are at fault, but in the end, does this really matter? The fact remains that if we’re not prepared and if we don’t bring our own reflections and opinions to class, we are cheating ourselves and cheating our section mates. We may not feel the consequences immediately (the 1 of 90 odds on getting the opening cold call aren’t bad), but if these practices become even more widespread the effects will catch up to us.

Herein lies the hypocrisy: the value of having HBS on our resumes, the value of our networks, and the value of landing great jobs are all based on the value of our education. By cutting corners on this foundation, we lessen the value of everything else. Though we intend to do more with our time here, we may actually end up leaving with less.

Consider what is likely to happen in a few months for the ECs and next year for the RCs. We will all get great jobs at great companies and we will work with intelligent, driven people. Many of those peers will become as, if not more, important to our network than our HBS peers who will be scattered across industries and functions. And many of our new associates will have attended other business schools.

You’d better believe that that they’ll be gunning for us. Chances are pretty good that your colleagues from other schools applied here and didn’t get in. Or didn’t apply, but resent being ranked lower in the polls or losing the MBA Basketball World Championship to us. Or maybe they just didn’t believe that the case method works, and after opting to attend another school, they are eager to prove themselves right. In any case, our performance will be watched closely, the bar may be set just a little bit higher, and no one is going to send us a write-up.

Anne Ristau
Editor In Chief

March 1, 2004
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