In an online petition signed by over 800 Wharton MBA students, members of the 2020 and 2021 classes said:
Dear Deans Garrett, Kaufold, and Dieckmann,
This letter is submitted on behalf of [XXX] undersigned members of the Wharton MBA community.
First and foremost, we applaud the decision of President Gutmann to extend the University’s spring break period and to migrate all future classes to a virtual setting for the remainder of the school year. Public health is of course the paramount concern at a time like this, so we are glad that the University has taken a leadership role in adhering to recommended social distancing practices as we, the country, and the world endure this unprecedented situation.
Please know how much we appreciate the timely efforts of Wharton and its faculty and staff to accommodate the transition to fully online classrooms, which undoubtedly involved much unheralded effort. Early online class sessions have made it clear that faculty have been professional, well prepared, and are making the best of a less than ideal setting – and for that we thank them. We also appreciate the early decision to allow MBA students to reclassify Q4 2020 courses to a Pass/Fail grading standard, which is very helpful to students adapting to major changes and challenges in their academic lives as well as in their daily personal lives.
As members of the Wharton community, we thought it would be prudent to give the situation some time to play out rather than jump to conclusions regarding virtual coursework before the shortened quarter had begun and developed.
Nevertheless, we undersigned members of the Wharton MBA community remain in prevalent agreement that virtual coursework, however well executed, does not provide the same educational value as the normal in-person classes that we expected when we enrolled.
Much of the value of the Wharton educational experience comes from interacting with our outstanding faculty in person, engaging in lively discussions with our fellow classmates and learning from each other’s experiences, and hearing from and meeting renowned guest speakers. Virtual classroom technology has been impressive, yet is still just unable to fully replicate that environment.
Further, more holistic elements of the Wharton experience, such as traveling to and learning in foreign places, participating in a wide range of extracurricular activities, and attending social events, have been essentially cancelled for the remainder of our time here. Access to valued wider University benefits, such as facilities, seminars and events, and of course graduation for the Class of 2020, have been curtailed.
It is also necessary to note that we MBA students have assumed tremendous financial and personal burdens to be here and receive that Wharton experience. For most of us, that means large amounts of student debt, and for others it means the spending of savings from our early careers. For some, these burdens have been further exacerbated by ramifications of this health crisis.
For international students, the disruption has triggered logistical and financial challenges impossible to imagine for their domestic classmates. For student-founders, the cancellation and virtualization of pitch competitions has meaningfully diminished their ability to showcase their efforts.
For classmates still seeking internships or post-graduation employment, opportunities have now been severely limited by the interruption of recruiting events and processes.
In short, by no fault of Wharton or the University, and despite the best efforts of Wharton faculty and staff, for the remainder of the year all of us in one way or another will be unable to realize the full value of the Wharton experience that we expected and in which we invested heavily. For WG20s concluding their time here, this is especially difficult.
With that reality in mind, once this immediate health crisis has stabilized we would like to open a dialogue regarding conditions under which Wharton MBA students might receive an appropriate amount of relief of tuition payments or other forms of assistance to compensate for the period during which the school’s operations are affected.
We understand that any actions by Wharton would need to be done in coordination with the University, and we are willing to participate and assist in that conversation.
We are also in discussion with the Wharton Graduate Association about relief from membership dues to Wharton’s many clubs, the events for which have been cancelled, or otherwise ensuring that the funds are invested in the Wharton and University community in a way that garners widespread support.
Again, we collectively believe that the University and Wharton have done admirably under difficult circumstances. Yet we also believe that this is a conversation that should be had. We recognize that our lifetime relationship with The Wharton School will continue long after we leave this campus. We want to make sure that we leave knowing that we left nothing behind. We applaud the University and Wharton administration for taking the lead to manage this crisis, and we hope that they can take the lead on this important matter as well.
We are open to discussing proposals, virtually of course, at the safest and most convenient time possible. Until then, please stay safe and stay healthy.
Respectfully signed, the following members of The Wharton School MBA Classes of 2020 and 2021.
Wharton MBA students are not the only ones demanding fee reductions in response to a shift to online learning. According to a story by Poets&Quants, around 80% of MBA students at Stanford have signed a petition demanding cuts to tuition fees, arguing the online education is a ‘subpar classroom experience’.
If the disruption caused by coronavirus lasts, more business schools will face a tough time keeping current and future MBA students happy.