Stanford and Harvard – Opposing Covid-19 tactics

How do two people address an issue? Very rarely do different people treat anything similarly. Parents of a child may deal with their wards in different ways.

Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business are two of the behemoths in their areas. How differently the two B-schools have addressed the novel coronavirus pandemic is interesting.

Since the novel coronavirus struck the world with the pandemic, administrators in colleges and universities have been deliberating with medical experts on the execution of classes safely for everyone concerned. Questions like –

  •  Could institutions operate with live classroom sessions?
  • If they must conduct classroom sessions, how many should they hold?
  • Can students live on campus?
  • How many residential students can a college accept?
  • Can students hang out together?

Dr. Sarah Van Orman, head of student health services at the University of Southern California and a past president of the American College Health Association warned authorities against overstating the complexity and the enormity of the task.

She insisted on prioritizing the safety of the campus and maintaining the health of students. She advised each institution to analyze the situation and determine what it could deliver.

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Students at Stanford in Northern Carolina narrated tales of policing by people in green vests who followed the students everywhere they went. The green-vested patrol directed students regarding where to go or not to go.

They checked on how and where students could chat or conduct any socially distanced gatherings. Some students complained of receiving threats to their campus stay if they defied the rules. The gendarme not only broke up picnics but also disrupted yoga camps.

The sentries questioned some students of their residencies and checked whether the students were residents of the hostel they wanted to enter.  

The Stanford campus spreads over eighty thousand acres on the San Francisco Peninsula. The school could have hosted large numbers of students in the fall. But after assurances earlier in summer, university officials reneged course as the crisis aggravated. 

The school debated on several possibilities before finally agreeing to limit on-campus residential status to graduate students and certain undergrads with special circumstances.

The business school in the middle of the vast and almost deserted campus expected its MBA hopefuls to enjoy all the physical distance required to stay safe.

But ever since the students’ arrival at the end of summer, Stanford had suffered missteps, policy retractions, and confusion about what the COVID-19 rules and safety protocols were.

Stanford asked its business grad students to sign a campus compact specifying rigorous safety measures for residents. Students at Harvard Business School signed an agreement on similar lines. In both cases, state and local regulations played a pivotal role, particularly in limiting the number of people in gatherings. 

Harvard’s compact emerged fully formed and relied on its students’ trustworthiness. But the Stanford compact was excruciating. The taskmasters delegated with enacting the regulations had gone overboard in enforcing the rigors. 

Graduate students felt frustrated that the school had not consulted them while formulating the policies for dealing with the pandemic. Some had exhorted their batch mates against signing the compact, even if it meant missing classes.

Students were warned that they would forfeit enrolments, denied emoluments for teaching, or refused entry to campus housing until they signed the compact. 

What did Stanford students object to?

Two of the objections of Stanford students:

  • The school’s original policy lacked a clear appeals process.
  • The compact did not assure amnesty from COVID 19 violation punishments to those who reported a sexual assault at a party/gathering of multiple individuals if the gathering broke COVID protocols. 

The university administrators succumbed to pressure and consented to change course. The authorities urged grad students to recalibrate the protocol focused on the students’ concerns in early September, including the amnesty they had petitioned for reporting sexual assault.

But the manners of enforcement, including harassments by the meandering vested vigilante in the campus, rattled the students at Stanford.

The Stanford Daily reported the agony of some students. Armed police had threatened to evict nine students following a call about the group’s outdoor picnic, disregarding safety rules. A student had told the newspaper that international students could ill afford to lose housing. 

Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda wrote in an email that the people in vests were Event Services staff working as “Safety Ambassadors.” The mail insisted that they were not present on campus to enforce the compact but were “emphasizing educational and restorative interventions.”

When the university divided the campus into five zones in September, they had emailed the students in a health alert that the safety ambassadors were civilian Stanford representatives who will enforce the safety program. 

Harvard Business School

Students at Harvard in Boston, Massachusetts have a different story to narrate regarding pandemic handling by the school. The school’s top administrators advised the students via email that they were part of “a delicate experiment”.

The email mentioned ground rules for students to follow during the term and promised to update them every few days. 

In an email in July, top administrators of Harvard reaffirmed the school’s commitment to students living on campus and taking business classes in person in a hybrid learning model.

Poets and Quants had reported that the officials at Harvard adapted “a parental tone,” as regards the COVID-19 protocols.  

But the basics of the school’s protocols were like those at Stanford. Both Harvard and Stanford specified who could be on campus at any given time, limiting access to students, staff, and pre-approved visitors. 

Both schools required that anyone living on campus report their health daily through an online portal, checking for any symptoms that could be caused by COVID-19. Both schools mandated face coverings when outside on campus regardless of situations where physical distancing from others could be maintained.

The Harvard Business School has continued to update students and staff on medical and safety issues at the campus.

Some of those memos issued instructions (to mask up indoors and conduct their self-checks) while others accorded invitations to staffers who were working from home to get pre-approved for a campus visit. 

The dean of the business school, Nitin Nohria assured staffers that the campus was not off-limits. Top campus administrator Angela Crispi invited some of them to take a walk around the campus, rediscover what it was like to have Harvard Business School as their destination for the day.

Same issue, two different solutions

Two gilt-edged schools had followed two disparate modus operandi in dealing with one crisis. But both the methods have worked.

Stanford and Harvard have succeeded in limiting the spread of COVID-19 during the crisis. Neither school has reported high positive test rates or significant outbreaks. 

Notwithstanding their enactments in crisis management, both schools had adopted science to guide them through the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

Harvard students felt the school dealt with them as if they were adult enough to follow safety protocols. The approach has worked so far. 

But the two campuses faced challenges in preparing and executing impromptu codes during this pandemic. 

Harvard’s placid path worked well, supported by local and county officials who laid down health regulations. The attempt to ensure safety at Stanford backfired when some students panicked with the scrutinizing patrol. 

Educational institutions face challenges in striking a balance between providing a college experience and the rigor required to ensure that the virus does not spread on the campus. 

Universities have struggled to strike a balance between the desire to deliver a meaningful college experience and the discipline needed to keep the campus caseload low in hopes of reopening in 2021.

Students have been cycling intermittently between taking online and campus classes. Some schools that had opened classroom sessions soon reverted to virtual classes when the virus spread increased.

Clemson, Arizona State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Texas Tech —locations that opened their doors to more students with less stringent guidelines — reported major outbreaks of the virus.

In May, Van Orman of the United States Code expressed that they were one of the best-prepared sectors for this test.

She had hoped that universities’ experiences of global outbreaks like SARS with international students would guide them in a position to better plan for COVID-19. But six months later, colleges are still exploring safety measures.

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