Dean Nohria Reflects on Past and Present Community Issues in Welcome Back Remarks

The mood was light as the Class of 2013 gathered in Burden Auditorium for remarks by administration and student leaders on Tuesday.  Rising EC’s reluctantly took their seats after greeting section-mates and friends, expecting a brief presentation on curricular logistics and perhaps some sage career advice.  With these topics cogently addressed by administrators in the first minutes of the assembly, Dean Nohria took the stage for the most substantive part of the programming.

Nohria displayed his trademark disregard for the podium, casually pacing across the stage as he delivered a few key sentiments in his characteristically informal but articulate tone that is rehearsed enough that it no longer sounds rehearsed.  The address focused primarily on three of Dean Nohria’s personal reflections from the year past and how they inform his work moving forward.

First off, the Dean offered an obligatory thanks to the Class of 2013 for undergoing the mass experiment that was the inaugural year of FIELD curriculum, which he mused could perhaps be one of the greatest innovations in business management education in recent memory.  While Nohria admitted he didn’t know how the program would be judged in the future, his comments implied that he was satisfied with the first iteration of the new initiative, which could prove to be the most notable legacy of his tenure.

The conversation then turned to a more serious and more interesting reflection on the community values issues raised by the administration’s response to an incident that occurred last spring. Dean Nohria expressed “frustration” at what he felt was a mounting tension “between students and faculty”.

Many EC’s remember that the punishment of the HBS Show’s student leaders for an alcohol-related infraction last Spring provoked student opposition to the administration’s handling of the situation and a broader campus discussion of the community values enforcement process.  Dean Nohria referred to the incident as “an event that occurred right here in Burden Auditorium” but he made it clear he was referencing the HBS Show infraction.

Nohria referenced the coverage of this event in The Harbus, reflecting on a conversation he had with his daughter, who asked “why his students hate him” after reading the article about the opposition to the administration’s actions.

Nohria conceded that his team made mistakes and should have been “more transparent” in its response.  He also informed the EC class of his commitment to restoring the contract of trust between students and the administration by reevaluating and improving the community values process this year.

After tackling the regrettable overhang from the past school year, Dean Nohria closed with a final powerful reflection on the deep sadness he felt after attending the baby shower of Nancy Bihlmaier, the wife of the Class of 2012’s Nate Bihlmaier, who passed away tragically and unexpectedly just days before his graduation.  In a heartfelt description of that summer day, the dean, speaking more as a father than an educator, urged his audience to be safe.

With these words, Dean Nohria set a thoughtful but ambitious tone for the coming semester, giving the new EC’s something to think about as they prepared for the next day’s first classes.

September 5, 2012
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