Sloan goes remote for week after MBA students seen in large gathering

In-person instruction for semester may end ‘if there are more events of this nature,’ Schmittlein wrote

The Sloan School of Management moved all in-person instruction online for all programs, except the Executive MBA, Sept. 16–Sept. 22 after two large gatherings of MBA students in public parks were reported to Sloan administrators within a week. 

Sloan Associate Deans Ezra Zuckerman Sivan and Jake Cohen announced in an email to Sloan students Sept. 16 that in-person classes would be suspended for a week. “Our ability to continue in-person classes for the entire MIT Sloan community for the rest of the semester is at risk.”

According to a webinar presentation Sloan held Sept. 17, both gatherings were held in public parks, were initiated by a small group in accordance to MIT COVID-19 policy but “grew organically” and included students who did not social distance or wear masks. The first gathering included over 50 first-year MBA students and involved alcohol. The second gathering took place Sept. 15 and included “over two dozen” Sloan students who “were not wearing masks [or] social distancing” and were “drinking alcohol from open containers,” Sivan and Cohen wrote. Both gatherings were noticed by members of the larger Cambridge community, who directly notified Sloan administrators. 

MIT’s COVID-19 policies allow students to gather outdoors in groups of up to 10. Both on-campus and off-campus parties have been banned.

The webinar presentation addressed the gatherings as a learning opportunity and focused on “getting to a productive lesson,” adding that “well-meaning, thoughtful people” could have participated in the gatherings. They acknowledged the difficulty of creating a safe situation while promoting inclusion, noting that it can be difficult to make correct judgments when questions like “Who wants to tell others they can't join a gathering?” or “Who wants to tell others what norms they should obey?” are involved.

The presentation wrote that students should “leverage social exclusion to promote social inclusion” and to form deeper connections through meeting in smaller, exclusive groups.

Students were advised to consult with administrators if they were unsure about the legality of certain gatherings.

David Schmittlein, dean of Sloan, sent an email Sept. 18 to the MIT Sloan community further addressing the severity and consequences of the gatherings, which “appeared to violate state, local, and MIT guidelines” as well as Sloan’s COVID-19 Community Compliance Agreement,“MIT Sloan values,” and Sloan’s “mission as it relates to principled leadership.”

Schmittlein wrote that the gatherings “put each member of [the MIT] community” and “the entire MIT Sloan in-person experience unnecessarily at risk.” No community member “can be allowed” to violate state, local, and Institute guidelines “meant to offer protection for all of us,” he wrote, emphasizing the school's mission “to be principled, innovative leaders.”

“If there are more events of this nature, in-person instruction may well end for the semester,” Schmittlein wrote. Additionally, “there will be individual consequences” if the students who participated in gatherings are known.

“If MIT Sloan is forced to end in-person learning due to the thoughtless choices of a few, it jeopardizes all in-person activity at MIT,” Schmittlein concluded, calling for each student to “consider what you can do… to ensure that the semester can continue with the on-campus options we worked so hard to make possible.”

Although Schmittlein expressed in his email that he was “seriously disappointed,” Sivan wrote in an email to The Tech that “there is every indication that the vast majority of Sloan students are highly committed to practicing social distancing and abiding by MIT policies,“adding that “all evidence from MIT testing is that MIT and Sloan policies have so far been remarkably successful at keeping the community safe.” MIT has had five positive COVID-19 cases in the past week.

Lastly, Sivan wrote to The Tech that Sloan students should not be viewed as a “monolith based on incidents that involved a small fraction of our MBA students” and that these events would not be comparable to similar incidents at other universities. “At the same time,“ he wrote, “it is critical that our community redouble our commitment to MIT policies for off-campus behavior, which are based on sound safety principles.”