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DO GRADES MATTER AT HBS?

Last September, 908 RC students found their seats in Burden Auditorium and for the first time gathered as the Class of 2010.
“I remember that [at the Welcome Reception] we were told to look to our left, and then to our right, and to congratulate each other because we would all be graduating from HBS,” says Jane*, who enrolled at HBS last September.

But for Jane and a handful of others, graduation will not be celebrated in 2010, if at all, either by choice or at the recommendation of the Academic Performance Committee (APC). For Jane, it was the latter. “I always thought the toughest part of HBS would be getting in,” she explains in a letter to The Harbus breitling superocean replica. “As it turns out, I was wrong.”

The disappearance of students like Jane has not gone unnoticed on campus, inspiring questions and speculations about these students’ whereabouts. As HBS has not released retention statistics as they relate to EC year, students are reliant on communication from their former sectionmates for answers.

For some students, the decision to take time off had nothing to do with the classroom, but rather advantageous professional opportunities, be it internships or entrepreneurships. Such is the case for Aaron Du (OJ), a finalist in the 2009 Business Plan Competition, who will be using this year to work on his start-up, FenSiZu, a micro-blogging and real-time interactivity platform serving the celebrity and fan communities in China. He will be using the year to put a round of angel investment to use. For other students, like First Year Honors recipient Claire Kenny (OH), it was simply a matter of timing and personal priorities.

So what of students like Jane and the somewhat mysterious APC? What does it mean to “hit the screen” at HBS tag heuer replica for sale ?

According to MBA Quick Info, the APC analyzes the academic performance of MBA students to identify two key groups: “Students whose academic performance merits consideration for academic honors,” including First Year Honors and Baker Scholar recognition; and students who find themselves in “academic difficulty.” Though the committee is said to be made up of senior members of the faculty and administration, only two committee members are known: Professor Roy Shapiro, who takes chairman duties this year from Professor Louis Wells, and Rachael Weisz of MBA Support Services, who serves as Secretary to the APC.

Rumors circulating the EC class put the number of students asked to withdraw from HBS due to APC review between fifteen and seventy-five. Though MBA Support Services could not answer to these conjectures, the upper bound of seventy-five students raised eyebrows. “The numbers wouldn’t be helpful because they vary from year to year,” explains Weisz.

“Academic Difficulty” in the MBA program is classified on three levels: Academic Concern, Academic Alert and Academic Review (visit //tinycurl.com/hbsapc for thresholds of classification). John*, who like Jane went through APC review, questions the effectiveness of these warnings and classifications, “not because I didn’t know it was possible to be reviewed,” he explains, “but because of the way things were communicated.”

After receiving too many Category III marks in Term 1 of RC year – a consequence of infrequent class participation – John received a “Letter of Academic Alert” from MBA Support Services via email. It arrived in mid-January and, as he explains, was quickly buried in his inbox. In the letter, which he shared with The Harbus, John was told that “This does not mean that you have ‘hit the screen’.. Experience has shown that students in your position can improve their performance with a solid action plan.”

Pat Light, head of MBA Support Services, explains that this outreach is usually what prompts students to come in for help, if at all. As Light astutely observes, “HBS students have trouble asking for help, and it’s not a surprise,” given the success and achievement most all MBA candidates have enjoyed until now. Neither John nor Jane made use of MBA Support Services resources www.replicabestsale.co.uk, but rather looked inwardly and focused their attentions on improving class participation. Though John performed better in Term 2, his cumulative RC performance placed him under Academic Review, as was also the case for Jane, who says she was distracted by a difficult networked internship search.

“Many students equate being reviewed with being kicked out,” Light says, but the two processes are separate and distinct. For example, the Academic Review might bring to light personal or family problems that impeded a student’s academic performance in the RC year, but no longer threaten his or her performance. In other cases, it is purely based on academic performance, which can also be remedied.

During the review process, both Jane and John were invited to submit personal petitions, up to twenty-pages in length, in which they could explain their circumstances and appeal for enrollment in the Elective Curriculum. The petitions were considered alongside Instructor Evaluation Forms and the admissions essays John and Jane submitted to HBS in 2007.

John notes that Weisz was very helpful in reviewing his supporting materials and guiding him through the difficult and emotionally trying process. “This was all a surprise as I was receiving my grades for the first time, processing the fact that I hit the screen while trying to assess the gravity of the situation, and trying to understand what I needed to do as a follow-up.”

“But ‘Going before the APC’ is a misnomer,” he adds. “It would have been great to go before a committee and discuss the year’s performance. However my case was reviewed by the APC – much more impersonal .. As you learn in LEAD, even the most difficult conversations should still be ‘conversations’. ÿThere should be two parties speaking to each other and responding to each others’ thoughts and concerns. ÿThat is severely lacking in this APC process,” aside from the conversations allowed with Weisz, he explains. “It feels like you’re being run through a machine.”

When their respective decisions were handed down – by phone and also by email – Jane and John were informed that the APC “voted to deny” the petitions, concluding “that the likelihood of [sic] successfully completing the MBA requirements in the coming year was not sufficiently favorable to warrant [sic] continuing this fall.”

John has since wondered whether the APC wanted him to grovel and be “more remorseful” in the petition. “I was probably more emboldened because I think I was in the right,” he says. “I didn’t have unexcused absences, didn’t act up in class, was always engaged, was helpful to my classmates outside of class, and no teacher recommended remedial instruction.”

Jane has also questioned the reason for the outcome and the lack of communication surrounding it. “The feedback I received on my petition was not at all clear-cut nor are the steps that I need to take to get back in,” said Jane, who plans to work full-time and take public speaking classes this coming year. “But I got the impression that they wanted me to come back and dominate, not be hanging on through the second year,” for which is she is genuinely appreciative. She says that after speaking with an HBS alumnae, who went through a similar ordeal and later graduated with an MBA, she is at peace with the decision and hopes to reapply in the future, since HBS offers the right to repetition for readmission during the five-years following withdrawal.

In responding to a rumor that students like Jane and John were asked to withdraw to accommodate a higher RC enrollment (942 in 2009 versus 908 in 2008), Weisz explains that one has nothing to do with the other. “There are no quotas,” she told The Harbus. “Each student is looked at completely individually,” adding that in an ideal situation, no one would be asked to take time off.

This, of course, begets another question: Why put students through this at all, especially in cases that are strictly grade-related and subject to a curve distribution?

To that point, Weisz says, “There is an importance for standards for the MBA program; you value your MBA and we do, too. We want students to perform at the level we expect of them when they are admitted,” she explains, but not “quaking in their shoes,” worrying about where they fall in the bell curve.

The fine line between these two messages is clear in the results of a poll administered by The Harbus to over 650 students. On the question of “Do grades matter at HBS?” the EC was split nearly 50-50; of those who said “Yes,” 60% echo Weisz’s sentiment, believing grades (and by extension, the APC) encourage standards that protect the value of the MBA. As one student suggested, “Grades provide enough motivation to get students routinely prepared for class, enhancing the classroom experience.” Another disagreed, arguing “Grades should encourage standards, but instead they are completely arbitrary.”

The RC class feels slightly stronger about the importance of grades, with approximately 60% of the students citing that grades do matter, especially as a measure of an individual’s own academic performance.

To those other 40%, Jane warns “more students than you think will go through [the Academic Review] process and it is unrealistic to think you could not potentially be one of them.” She adds that Midterm feedback may be helpful but should be taken with a grain of salt, as it could provide a false sense of security of rank within the section when a lot can change exam day.

John’s feedback is instead for the APC. In a letter to The Harbus, he proposes that academic alerts be accompanied by mandatory meetings with MBA Support Services and/or a Section Chair, to convey the severity of the alert. In his opinion, “APC needs to decide whether it is a punitive body or developmental,” he suggests, clearly favoring the latter.

“It is simple to be disenchanted with HBS after such an experience,” John confesses, “but as I continue to remember that I didn’t choose HBS because it had the best educational system or name brand; I chose HBS because of the people. My supportive sectionmates have proven that decision right.”

*The male and female contributors, here named Jane and John, intend to reapply to HBS in the future and have asked not to be identified by name.

**According to MBA Classcards; includes dual-degree candidates and former students who took time off of school to pursue other ventures.

AUTHOR’S BIOGRAPHY
Caren Kelleher is a second-year student from Maryland. Prior to HBS she served as the marketing director of Paste magazine, a music, film and culture publication based in Decatur, GA.

September 14, 2009
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