Wharton Students Choose Sundance over Classroom

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...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?


From: Admin
To: students
Sent: Sat, January 16, 2010 10:40:30 PM
Subject: [Whg10] Welcome back (and more)

Dear students,

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.

Sincerely,

XXX

------ Forwarded Message
From: XXX
Date: Wed, 20 Jan 2010 12:39:37 -0500
To: XX
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.

Best wishes,

XXX

----- Forwarded Message ----
From: XXX
To: XXXX
Sent: Tue, January 19, 2010 8:39:06 PM
Subject: Re: [Whg10] Welcome back (and more)

Dear XXX,

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:

  1. That this reflects disrespect for your academic commitments and is very discouraging to faculty is, we hope, self-evident.
  2. 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.

MY RESPONSE:

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).

POINT THREE:

  1. Such activities have the potential to create cleavages within our community even although they appear to be community sanctioned.

MY RESPONSE:

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.
.

POINT FOUR:

  1. We are also concerned about potential harm to the Wharton brand-both externally and on the Penn campus.

MY RESPONSE:

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!

POINT FIVE:

  1. 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

MY RESPONSE:

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?

POINT SIX:

  1. 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 RESPONSE:

My apologies, but I'm not entirely sure what this means.

Comments (12)

 
Jan 21, 2010 - 6:20pm

This is graduate school. Attendance is not required. If you are paying to go to a university then it is your decision if you want to miss a (one) class. Who cares what the dean says.

 
Jan 21, 2010 - 6:53pm

As a Wharton alum I can understand why a student would feel that way -- however, I do think the student giving a point-by-point refutation made the student come across as a bit of an entitled and spoilt douchebag.

It's not really about who is right or wrong here (but the student seems to think so) -- it's more about a matter of consideration and respect.

The student can by all means disagree with how the administration feels (as there is no "right" or "wrong" perspective - just different perspectives about consideration, respect, etc) -- but the student doesn't really help to resolve the situation by using the email to up the ante.

It's like having your apartment neighbor complain about the noise coming from your apartment on a Friday night. Whether the complaint is reasonable or not, you don't just launch into a "here's where I think you're wrong, putting on my argumentative lawyer hat to prove how unreasonable you are, what's the big deal - it's Friday night blah bla blah" -- all that will do is further piss off your neighbor. Justified or not, you diffuse the situation by apologizing to your neighbor about the noise, and let them know that you hear their concerns -- and whether you agree or not, you try and work it out together, rather than getting into a pissing match over whether the neighbor's complaints are justified or not (and if it really comes to a head, you go to the manager).

In this situation, both sides have a point, but the student certainly didn't help in how he responded. How is the admin supposed to respond to this? How would an admin feel when they get such strong push back? Are they going to be more angry, or less angry?

When professors catch wind of this, how do you think the student's response is supposed to make them feel? The tone of the student's response is basically "fuck you, it's just one day, and don't give me that bullshit about brand, everything you said is ridiculous." It will only serve to make the profs feel that students don't give a shit about the academics at all.

When someone voices a complaint (whether it's justified or not), the worst thing one can do is to invalidate their sentiment or completely write off someone's concerns like this student has done. It seems like the student refuses to understand the admin's point of view and immediately goes into attack mode.

To be honest, when I was a Wharton student, I probably would've responded the same way (but then again I was a bit of a cocky douchebag like many MBA students can be) - but with hindsight and distance, the student is the one that comes off as less mature than the admin. And the point by point refutation will only likely serve to further piss off the admin and profs who already for the most part feel that MBA STUDENTS DON'T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT ANYTHING BUT THEMSELVES - selfish, entitled, obsessed with jobs, and most importantly - unwilling to LISTEN to anyone else that disagrees with their view of the world. That may be strong and unfair to paint all MBA students that way, but that is what a lot of professors and admins do feel about their MBA students off the record and behind closed doors - and those sentiments are based on years of accumulated truth (again not every MBA student is this way, but the culture can certainly make it frustrating and can wear down admins and profs who have to deal with this shit year in and year out).

Professors for the most part hate teaching full-time MBAs for the most part, and I don't blame them (they tend to enjoy undergrads, exec MBAs, PhDs and part-time MBAs - anyone but full-time MBAs).

As for the actual situation itself -- based on what I've read here, I think both sides have a point. Yes, it's just one day and in the grand scheme of things not a big deal. The admin probably knows that too - but if so, why did they write it? The Wharton admin is known for being relatively easy going and not autocratic like ahem another Boston-area school, so whether the student realizes it or not, the admin probably had very good reason to put their stake in the ground on this one. However, the student never gave the chance for the admin to explain why the admin has made this an issue - but instead just dismisses their sentiment completely.

Having been a Wharton student before, I know what it feels like on campus - students can feel so "empowered" that they don't necessarily realize how much they might take others (professors, admins, etc) for granted.

My hunch is that this isn't just about the one day ski trip -- but about something deeper that prompted the admin to choose this instance to voice his/her concern. From my own experience (and those of my clients who have since gone through Wharton as well), the Wharton admin does see it as a "partnership" between admin/profs and students - a collaborative process in shaping the MBA experience. However, with that "partnership" comes responsibility, and to be blunt the students don't always hold up their end of the bargain as much as they should (the admins don't always either, but that doesn't give one license either) -- to foster a collaborative environment, there is no grade disclosure (or at least students honor it), but students do abuse it to some extent as well by missing more classes than they should. They don't always take the academic experience as seriously as they should -- and professors and admins do get frustrated with this. That's likely what prompted this -- it's not just this one ski trip, but the ski trip was the straw that broke the camel's back - an accumulation of small and seemingly inconsequential concerns and annoyances that the profs and admins have tried to just "grin and bear it" until now.

From the students' perspectives, I know the admin's response blindsided them into thinking that the admin overreacted to this one little ski trip -- but it's not just about this one little ski trip if they were truly willing to listen and understand why an otherwise reasonable admin would issue a concern like this.

Alex Chu www.mbaapply.com
 
Jan 21, 2010 - 6:55pm

does any actually read this long-drawn out drivel. you realize all we are talking about is ski trip. only an insufferable, pretentious, educated fool would compose an essay to defend his/her stance stance on a ski trip.

an mba is a product that you pay 60k a year for. you get the mba degree, the overpaid professors and administration get your 60k a year. if you want to take a ski trip, take a ski trip. wharton will still give you a piece of paper saying you graduated and employers will still recruit you. everything else is pretense

isn't wharton one of those mba programs where they don't even release grades?

 
Jan 21, 2010 - 7:27pm

What amazes me is someone actually read an email from the dean to begin with.

 
Jan 21, 2010 - 8:15pm

This is the type of email you'd expect from a Dean. There's nothing onerous about it. I'm sure most of us have done something like this at some point in our academic lives. You know it isn't "right", but you do it anyway and accept the consequences. There's no grounds for rebutting a Dean who sends a pretty light admonition of your choice.

The guy who sent the response made really shitty arguments. He probably thinks he did a good job too.

 
Jan 22, 2010 - 5:13am

"What amazes me is someone actually read an email from the dean to begin with."

Hahah I couldn't agree more with the statement above. LOL.

My view is this. It's the freakin dean! he's supposed to send out things like this. And quite frankly you don't retaliate when your parents spanked you as a child (oh btw, notice I said "spank" not "beat"; just so some of you opinionated fools out there don't think i'm promoting child abuse or somethin along those lines.) You take it and shush. If it served its purpose, you realize as an adult those spankings when you were out of line did you more good than harm. Therefore, you learn to respect your elders and the cycle continues in a mature and wity manner. Again, I'm not suggesting you kiss ass to every self-praising dean but it's Wharton, not a community college. Take into consideration the dean's probably in his late 50s maybe 60's or older and has a completely different upbringing. Just don't lash out at someone that worked his ass off to be where he's at. It's all about respect whether it's the dean at Wharton or the community college.

They don't teach RESPECT at Wharton or any MBA program because you're suppose to know this by the time you are wise enough to apply to one. C'MON PEOPLE. Give me a break!

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