The decision on Burden was well reasoned and right

April 12, 2007

Dear Editor:

On behalf of the MBA Program, I would like to provide some information regarding the recent decision to return to our policy of not allowing performing arts events and concerts in Burden Auditorium.

First, we regret we did not do more to solicit student input on this decision. When making important decisions, the MBA Program typically seeks extensiveÿfeedback from student leaders, runs focus groups, and conducts surveys. We should have done more in this case.

Second, we want to assure the community that Harvard Business School enthusiastically supports student events and dedicates substantial resources to ensure a robust portfolio of speakers, conferences, seminars, career fairs, and dinners, to name just a few. The MBA Program, Department of Operations, Restaurant Associates, Media Services, Marketing and Communications, Career Services, and HBS Financial Office all spend countless hours partnering with student leaders to facilitate the many events we all benefit from and enjoy every day.

Student-run events held in Burden will continue to include conferences, symposia, panels, speakers, and business plan contests. Use of Burden for these types of events has not changed; the return to policy applies only to performing arts events. In addition, such events will continue to be held in Spangler Williams Room.

The reasons we have decided to return to our policy of not allowing performances in Burden (with the exception of the HBS Show) include:

Using Burden for performances takes it off-line for many days or weeks, making it unavailable for its primary purpose of educational and academic events. Event planners are left with the suboptimal choice of either not having access to Burden at all or having high-profile speakers surrounded by theatrical props.

– Community safety is always a primary concern. In the past, there have been incidents violating the School’s alcohol policies at performances in Burden, and student event planners have expressed concern over the difficulties of controlling large crowds, often from outside the HBS community. Our experience with this type of event has demonstrated repeatedly that policy violations are more common than we might hope.

– Burden was designed to be a lecture hall and not a theater. As such, it is not suitable for performing arts. In fact, in order to make it usable, significant modifications must be made to the facility, whether building out a stage or installing lighting, props, sound systems, and other audio visual equipment, often costing event sponsors thousands of dollars.

– Use of Burden for performances has resulted in damage to the facilities, both from audience abuse as well as physical modifications to the facility. Specifically, excessive wear and tear, damage to expensive audiovisual equipment, and improper use of props, including smoke machines, have caused problems.

– The policy of reserving Burden for non-performance-type events is not new. The only performance that had been permitted until 2005 was the HBS Show. Because students wanted a larger space for other events, we piloted using Burden for three additional performances. Unfortunately, there were several issues and policy violations that caused us to discontinue the pilot. Simultaneously, several other groups made requests to hold performances in Burden, further emphasizing the need for action.

– A single exception to the return to policy has been made for the HBS Show because it has been a central part of the HBS tradition for over 30 years. In addition, the show is an HBS community event, written and performed by students and partners and attended by students, partners, faculty, and staff. We feel this makes it different, and we are willing to continue taking Burden off-line once a year and devoting the extra resources required to ensure the show’s success. However, our pilot experience has demonstrated we cannot do this on a larger scale moving forward.

– The Student Association Co-Presidents have shared with us student concerns, in particular those of the African American Student Union (AASU), South Asian Business Association (SABA), and Africa Business Club (ABC) leadership teams regarding the use of Burden for their performing arts events. We are planning to meet with the SA Co-Presidents and other student leaders to better understand their concerns, brainstorm alternative locations for performing arts events, and find ways to continue to work together on the wide range of student-life activities that are so important to us all.


Joe Badaracco
John Shad Professor of Business Ethics
Senior Associate Dean
Chair, MBA Program

April 17, 2007
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