Opinion: HBS Show Co-President Evaluates Sanction Process
Recently, I have become painfully aware of how our community upholds its values — by means of an opaque process that feels neither fair to the individual nor the community.
After the April 13th HBS Show performance, several empty alcohol containers were found in Burden Auditorium by the cleaning staff. No one reported drinking to event organizers that night, no property damage occurred, and no one suffered injury. I was out of town so I cannot directly comment on the events of that night.
The Director of Community Values told me that as Co-President of the HBS Show my inability to prevent alcohol consumption that night represents “failed leadership” and an inability to uphold HBS Community Values. As such, I have been banned me from attending all non-academic social activities and placed on probation until graduation.
A reflection on process
When HBS administrators discovered the alcohol containers, they notified me via e-mail and scheduled a 30-minute meeting where I learned a few details about the incident. By their requirement, I promptly went home and spent several hours composing and submitting a personal statement about my involvement and thoughts on potential remediation. Less than 48 hours later and without any follow-up, the director of the HBS Community Values Program informed me that I would be sanctioned for the incident.
I felt blindsided by these sanctions. I was uncertain how the entire process would unfold and was caught off guard by what I experienced.
During the review of the facts, it felt as though the administrator interjected personal opinion about what might have taken place that evening – e.g., suggesting show staff knowingly held a cast party in Burden. I felt a presumption of guilt despite this ostensibly being a meeting focused on gathering information.
In conversations afterwards, I was told the fact finding process is opaque by nature in order to permit the facilitators to privately reconcile conflicting pieces of information.
I expected that the HBS administration would approach the incident in a way that reflected our community values. But — so far as I know — no community constituencies aside from school administrators were involved in the process.
I learned that some school administrators viewed my sanctions to be light, and that additional measures such as not letting me walk at graduation were considered. I felt frightened upon learning this additional information. A disconnect clearly existed between what I believed was a community values infraction and just punishment and what the administration believed.
I discovered that there is no appeals process for HBS-imposed sanctions. I inquired about the potential for a Conduct Review Board, figuring that an impartial review which mimics court-of-law proceedings might provide me with the transparent process I so desperately sought. However, Community Values Program leadership told me that a CRB would likely expose me to the more serious sanctions that some administrators had advocated.
I feel misinformed, misguided, and confused by these events and am left with more questions than answers.
If Community Values decisions are based on precedent, why was I not provided with any prior examples? If all students who experience this process report feeling blindsided, is that not indicative of a real disconnect within the HBS community about what “Community Values” actually mean and how they are enforced?
A reflection on impact
I am seriously concerned about the impact judgments and sanctions like the ones I received will have on the HBS community. The sanctions I experienced cause me to question my future actions out of fear that I may unexpectedly expose myself to additional risks. Another violation could have serious consequences, and given the unsuspecting circumstances of my first violation, I am paranoid about what I might be found guilty of.
I believe that HBS should encourage learning and leadership. As an educational institution, it is supposed to be a place that rewards taking risks, stretching ourselves, even failing — so that we can experience this strain in a safe environment and apply these lessons as we grow in our lives. Leadership is a fundamental component of the HBS experience. We should encourage it.
I invested months of my life in the HBS Show out of respect for the school, love for the community, and a genuine desire to build a positive experience that unites us all.
Opaque and subjective sanctions for things that occur outside of one’s control send a clear message about our community’s tolerance for risk. I may not have been a perfect HBS Show Co-President. But in an institution predicated on providing a safe environment to learn, I feel the current outcome punished me for my extracurricular leadership and has sapped my motivation to build a more vibrant community.
This is not the way to inspire people to affect change in their organization. This is not the way to motivate people to take risks and build something for their peers and community. This is not the safe and supportive learning environment that makes HBS such an incredible institution. It feels oppressive and arbitrary. It generates distrust within the community. It causes people to play it safe, not stick their neck out, and focus on covering their asses rather than trying to actually contributing to make this institution the greatest place it can be.
Ironically I walk away from this experience a better leader. Sadly it is not because of the community values process I have been subjected to or the sanctions I must now bear. Rather the strength, restraint, and resolve I have found in myself while managing this most incomprehensible series of events will make me a better leader.