It was Halloween and a bus carrying a fractious group of HBS students to the annual Halloween Party was lost. The bus driver was disoriented and spent approximately forty-five minutes driving through various neighborhoods surrounding the party site without reaching it. The bus contained both ECs and RCs and many of the students on the bus were in various stages of inebriation. Eventually, the increasingly frustrated students began shouting at the driver and questioning his competence and professionalism. As the driver continued to flounder, the comments and chants became louder and more personal. While some of the students on the bus felt uncomfortable with the behavior of their fellow students, the comments apparently did not include any epithets related to race, gender or national origin. After reaching the destination and disembarking, some students stayed behind to apologize to the driver and to try to ensure that the driver was not left with any inaccurate stereotypes of HBS students.
This is the series of events that precipitated the e-mail from Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr., the MBA Program Chair, to the entire MBA Program. That email, dated November 17, 2006, gave a vague description of the incident, labeled the episode “disappointing,” and asserted that the behavior departed dramatically “from basic standards of behavior.” The e-mail also promised to investigate the incident and to take appropriate disciplinary action. At the time that this article was written, it was not clear what, if any, disciplinary action would be taken.
Since receiving the email, students have debated its purpose and content. Many students reacted with embarrassment at the behavior of their fellow students and expressed concern that it will deepen stereotypes of Harvard MBAs as arrogant and possessed of a sense of entitlement. Rangena Hotaki (NC) is disappointed in the students on the bus. “Alcohol related or not, this incident is inexcusable. HBS students need to overcome this pervading sense of entitlement and treat everyone like they treat their professors, whether they are the custodians that clean our classrooms or the bus drivers that work to get us home safely. I expected more from HBS students, who are known for their leadership qualities. In my opinion, leaders should portray humanity and these students clearly did not.”
Tiffany Taylor (NG) agrees and questions the actions of everyone on the bus. “For me, an equally important issue is the failure of the other students on the bus to intervene on behalf of the bus driver and in defense of our community standards and plain common decency.”
Some students, however, wonder if there is a better mechanism for dealing with such incidents than sending vague emails that don’t precisely state the facts or the standards that have been violated. “It sounds like the students crossed the line, but I don’t think the email accomplished much beyond fueling the rumor mill,” said Ben Glazer (NB). “It would’ve been a lot more productive to know more specifically how the administration frames the issue.”
Kim Budd, the Director of the HBS Community Values Program, welcomes this dialogue. She says that this is precisely the debate that the email was intended to spark. “If the email has stimulated a discussion about the boundaries of acceptable conduct among members of the HBS community, then I think it has served its purpose. We need to discuss these issues and take them seriously.”