News

Section Presidents Voice Opinion on Grade Disclosure to HBS Administration

November 30, 2005

To: Harvard Business School Administration
From: Section Presidents from the Classes of 2006 and 2007
Re: Grade Disclosure

Dear HBS Administration:

Over the past several weeks, the MBA student body has become aware of the Administration’s review and potential adjustment of the current grade non-disclosure policy at HBS. Needless to say, this is a delicate issue that has generated strong reactions from many. As elected student leaders, the section presidents have witnessed these reactions first hand and feel that it is our duty to clearly voice our collective opinion on this topic.

To begin, three important notes: First, despite this school’s well-regarded reputation in the world of business education, you, the HBS Administration are always working relentlessly to make this a better place for students to live, learn and develop as leaders. We appreciate your efforts and we benefit from these continuous improvements every day. Second, it should be noted that we are expressing 100% selfless opinions in this letter. As members of the classes of 2006 and 2007 we know that we will not be personally affected by a change in the grade disclosure policy. However we want our voices to be heard because we care deeply about this school and the students that will eventually fill our seats in Aldrich and Hawes. Third, we understand that the question of grade disclosure is a challenging one, with no clear right answer. There are several ways to look at the issue and two individuals standing even on the same side of the argument may have very different reasons for why they believe what they do.

That being said, the undersigned Section Presidents collectively feel that a policy of optional grade disclosure would have a significant negative impact on the learning environment and overall student experience at HBS.

Every day we learn about companies attempting to create lasting value by aligning the abilities, motivations and incentives of their owners, employees, and customers. Successful, value creating organizations support their mission with a few unique operational facets that collectively make up the foundation of their business model. We feel that HBS manages to do this as well as any organization that we’ve read about in our case studies. A closer look provides some clarity.

The mission of the school is to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. HBS is unique in that it educates not via a model of “knowledge transfer” (like most academic institutions) but through a “knowledge exchange” in which each student is as much a teacher as a learner. In our opinion, the key operational facets that support this differentiated model of “knowledge exchange” are:

(i) The admittance of a talented student body with remarkably diverse backgrounds and abilities;

(ii) The first-year section experience which encourages students across these diverse backgrounds to learn and socialize together;

(iii) The case method learning model that forces these students with wide-ranging talents to collectively tackle real-life business problems; and

(iv) The student voted on and school enacted grade non-disclosure policy which limits cutthroat attitudes among a highly competitive student body, encourages academic risk taking, and enhances the overall learning environment which is, at its core, collaborative.

Not one of these four is more important than the others, but we believe that all of them are inherently connected. The removal of one could do significant damage to the operational foundation of the school’s learning model and impair its ability to accomplish its stated mission.

We would like to address a few of the arguments presented in Dean Ruback’s letter to the student body. First, grade disclosure will never be truly optional. “The right to disclose” will quickly become the interviewer’s “right to ask” and therefore “the right to assume the worst when a student won’t disclose.” Optional disclosure might as well be mandatory disclosure.

We understand and agree that “positive incentives” should be provided to students in the hopes of increasing the attention dedicated to academics at HBS. People respond to incentives, and HBS students are no exception to this rule. However, we have learned in countless classes and from our own experiences that incentives can often have unintended, negative consequences. The question is: Will the net costs and benefits of these incentives get us closer to the stated goal of “strengthening the educational experience” at HBS? We don’t think so.

Lastly, Dean Ruback has stated in his letter that the review of the grade disclosure process is being “undertaken with significant student involvement.” We appreciate Dean Ruback’s desire to get student feedback on this issue. However it is our opinion that this process of gaining feedback began after key members of the school’s administration had already developed strong opinions in favor of grade disclosure. Therefore, we are concerned that the feedback has not, and will not, be weighed as heavily as the student body will eventually be led to believe. We urge the administration to look with an open mind at the student response they have received and to actively engage students at the earliest stages of future policy changes that significantly impact HBS students.

For the sake of clarity and brevity in an already long letter, we’d like to bullet point the key drivers of our opinion on the grade disclosure issue:

If HBS allows students to disclose their grades to recruiters.

The collaborative atmosphere that is critical in the case method learning model and the first year section environment could be severely damaged.

Students will be less inclined to take academic risks with their EC course selection.

Students will be evaluated by subjective, “noisy” measure of their ability to perform in the workplace.

Recruiters may become overly reliant on these subjective evaluations and could eventually offer interviews only to those students with the best grades. Evidence of this reliance on grades can be seen within the hiring committees of the nation’s top law firms.

In addition, we have the following questions regarding this issue:

Are student opinions really being considered? We are concerned because the advice of the Presidents and Ed Reps on the learning teams issue was essentially ignored last year.

It seems as though the support for non-disclosure among students is overwhelming, if not unanimous. Is it possible that such a high percentage of the students (who won’t even be personally affected) are wrong on this issue?

The grade non-disclosure policy was enacted after a student vote on January 23, 1998. Is it right to change this policy without another vote?

Why the rush? Shouldn’t we wait until after a full-time Dean is chosen?

Is there data showing that a majority of the faculty, alumni and recruiters want grade disclosure?

Is there data showing that HBS graduates are “less competitive” in the workplace since grade disclosure was disallowed?

Could there be less risky ways to increase academic rigor at HBS? More cold calling from professors, an increased number of graded assignments, or a more segmented grading system with scores beyond the current 1,2 or 3 could merit further study.

To conclude, the undersigned section presidents appreciate the time and attention dedicated to reading this letter. We are confident that given sufficient time, communication and creative thinking, a resolution to this issue can be found that is in the best interest of the administration, recruiters, alumni and all future HBS students.

Sincerely,

Brian Astl (OA)
Max Cuellar (OB)
Christian Charnaux (OC)
Ted Sullivan (OE)
Brett S. Rubin (OF)
Clay Cowan (OG)
Will Alston (OH)
Nate Boaz (OI)
Daisuke Iwase (OJ)
Samuel Neswick (NA)
Libbie Landles-Dowling (NB)
Rebecca Walker (NC)
Nick Yoong (ND)
Edmund Kim (NE)
Quan Nguyen (NF)
Danny Shapiro (NG)
Toby Johnson (NH)
David Burt (NI)
Marcelo Reichert (NJ)

December 5, 2005
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