Wharton Students Choose Sundance over ClassroomSubscribe
...One of my buddies sent me the e-mail exchange between the dean of Wharton and a student a few days ago regarding a student trip to Park City, Utah this weekend. Supposedly it's an annual trip a lot of the MBAs make and the the administration isn't all too happy about 50% of students missing class. There was one student, however, that openly disagreed with the administration (read below).
What do you guys think?
Sent: Sat, January 16, 2010 10:40:30 PM
Subject: [Whg10] Welcome back (and more)
Welcome back to campus for the Spring semester.
This is an admittedly awkward welcome back message, for we are writing to let you know that we were dismayed to learn about a student-organized activity that is likely to take a large number of your peers away from classes on Thursday. That this reflects disrespect for your academic commitments and is very discouraging to faculty is, we hope, self-evident. It may be less self-evident that the decision to take part in this activity is also a negative signal to your fellow students who choose to honor their academic commitments. Such activities have the potential to create cleavages within our community even although they appear to be community sanctioned.
We are also concerned about potential harm to the Wharton brand-both externally and on the Penn campus. It makes it exceedingly difficult to defend why our students place social activities over academic activities and undermines our reputation for rigor and commitment to academic excellence.
As an institution we empower our students to undertake a wide variety of co-curricular pursuits because we view them to be an important part of your professional development. We also strive not to be heavy-handed about imposing strict boundaries on these activities. We believe that the values and norms of the institution gently inculcate a common understanding of the primacy of the academic mission and lead to enlightened self-regulation by the organizing groups. These values and norms have produced a culture conducive to learning both in and out of the classroom. Activities such as this planned event for the coming weekend are detrimental to our culture. We hope that you will contemplate this when making your individual decisions. We are informing your faculty of this activity and suggesting to them that they should regard any absences it causes to be unexcused. We have also begun a dialog with the relevant student leaders to discuss solutions and to find ways of preventing future occurrences of conflict with the academic calendar.
------ Forwarded Message
Date: Wed, 20 Jan 2010 12:39:37 -0500
Subject: [Cohortk10] Fw: [Whg10] Welcome back (and more)
To my friends in Cohort K:
I wanted to bring to your attention an e-mail I sent Admin last night around 8:40. When I sent the e-mail, I bcc'd the cohort, but unfortunately it appears to have been "held" (i.e. censored). Therefore, I am forwarding my response - please see below. I believe that it is important for you to know that this e-mail has not gone unanswered.
----- Forwarded Message ----
Sent: Tue, January 19, 2010 8:39:06 PM
Subject: Re: [Whg10] Welcome back (and more)
Welcome back as well. I hope you had an enjoyable break and a happy holiday season. I spent two weeks in India - it was my first time there and it was a terrific experience. A year and a half has blown by and I now find myself a little nostalgic as I enter my final semester at Wharton. I find it somewhat disheartening that your welcome back e-mail was, well, hardly welcoming at all.
I suspect that the activity vaguely referenced in your e-mail is the upcoming ski trip to Park City, Utah. I should mention that I am not attending this trip, a decision that may have worked out well, if only because the West has had a rather poor snowfall this year (something I could never have predicted). So, yes, you will find me in class on Thursday, but I can't promise that I won't be daydreaming of knee-deep champagne powder.
In your e-mail, you stated that you wish to begin a dialogue with students. I claim absolutely no leadership or any other authority within the class of '10, so I am surely not the person you had in mind. But, you clearly feel that this is a very significant issue, so I believe it is important that you receive a response from students. I sincerely hope your e-mail has not been met with silence - and I sincerely hope mine won't be, either.
At the end of your e-mail, you state that students who attend the trip will receive an unexcused absence. I believe that this is exactly the outcome everyone would or should have predicted - both those attending the trip and those not. But, prior to your conclusion, you raise a number of points (nine by my tally). It is to these points that I feel a response is necessary. In the following e-mail, I will attempt to respond as best as I can to what I consider to be the most salient issues.
POINTS ONE AND TWO:
- That this reflects disrespect for your academic commitments and is very discouraging to faculty is, we hope, self-evident.
- It may be less self-evident that the decision to take part in this activity is also a negative signal to your fellow students who choose to honor their academic commitments.
How does missing one class reflect disrespect for academic commitments? Many classes are not discussion based, and even in those that are, typically only a handful of students speak. And it would seem to me that students who miss just 80 minutes out of an entire semester can easily make it up by doing the reading, having discussions with team-members and/or reading lecture notes. I have no idea if it is discouraging to faculty, though the claim would seem to lack credibility, as faculty members are evaluated solely on research productivity. This is, if anything, discouraging to us students. It would be nice if anyone in the administration held professors accountable for teaching quality. I am told that seasoned Wharton professors typically earn $250K or more per year. Professors in virtually every other academic discipline earn far less. When a professor accepts a job and the accompanying generous salary at a business school such as Wharton, he has implicitly accepted his role within a professional (i.e. career) -oriented school. This should alleviate any discouragement he might have.
As to your second point, I disagree with the notion that the trip, in any way, sends a negative signal to fellow students. Few, if any, will care about other students' decision to attend class for two reasons: (1) fellow students' absences in no way interfere with others' ability to learn and/or earn high marks; (2) those that are in class stand to benefit from proportionally better grades because everything, including participation, is graded on a curve. Those who are not attending class, will, in your words, receive an unexcused absence. I would assume that the students who are in class on Thursday are those either with no employment prospects, such as yours truly, or those who care most about grades. Therefore, there is likely a significant group of students attending class on Thursday who might actually be happy about their colleagues' absences (personally I'm indifferent).
- Such activities have the potential to create cleavages within our community even although they appear to be community sanctioned.
Cleavage jokes aside, I surmise that most Wharton MBAs do not have strong negative feelings about Thursday's absences - provided any/all group work commitments are met.
- We are also concerned about potential harm to the Wharton brand-both externally and on the Penn campus.
Really? I am not sure how many people outside of Wharton are aware of the ski trip. I suspect few, if any. But, even if news of the trip were to be leaked to The Wall Street Journal, I do not think it would do substantial damage to the brand. The trip in no way takes away from Wharton's rigorous analytical MBA program. As the world continues to globalize, only intellectual capital-based pursuits will be financially rewarded (and not easily outsourced to a lower cost country). Thus, deep analytical capabilities are of paramount importance to newly minted MBAs. I honestly can't think of a more rigorous or more analytical MBA program than Wharton's. Of course, it's not to say that we should be so arrogant as to rest on our laurels. I'm sure Wharton can do better in certain ways; I just don't think that this particular ski trip has the potential to do as much damage as other issues facing the program.
And, yes, I would sincerely hope that you can defend the Wharton brand. It is, after all, one of the top business schools in the U.S. and the world. And how can it be hard to defend the Wharton brand on the Penn campus when the Wharton brand is far more prestigious? Penn should be defending itself to us!
- It makes it exceedingly difficult to defend why our students place social activities over academic activities and undermines our reputation for rigor and commitment to academic excellence
So, are we to infer that you do defend students placing social activities over academic activities, albeit only for certain activities? If so, how are we supposed to know which are ok and which are not?
- We believe that the values and norms of the institution gently inculcate a common understanding of the primacy of the academic mission and lead to enlightened self-regulation by the organizing groups. These values and norms have produced a culture conducive to learning both in and out of the classroom.
My apologies, but I'm not entirely sure what this means.