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The Harvard Business School Student Association decided Wednesday to deny a request to include the signing of a business management ethics oath during this year’s Class Day festivities.
“Patrick [S. Chun ’04] and I are very strong advocates of an oath for professionalism in general,” said M. Scott Daubin, co-president of the Student Association along with Chun. “But we are weighing more than just our personal likes and dislikes.”
The MBA oath—a voluntary pledge that aims to “professionalize” business management in light of the recent financial crisis and criminal activities of business executives by creating a shared code of ethics similar to the Hippocratic Oath—was inspired by a Harvard Business Review article published in October 2008 that laid out a set of standardized values for business managers.
The oath garnered significant media attention upon its creation and has since continued to be featured in discussions of business education.
Last spring, several Business School students developed a version of this oath for the MBA Class of 2009 to sign and organized a ceremony at Class Day with the special permission of last year’s Student Association presidents. A total of 60 percent of the MBA Class of 2009 signed the oath—half of whom signed on Class Day.
Chun and Daubin, who are both second year MBA students, cited administrative policy and concerns over inciting controversy during Commencement celebrations as reasons for declining the request for an oath-signing ceremony this year.
According to Business School policy, no student groups other than the Student Association are permitted to hold events on Class Day.
Moreover, The MBA Oath Leadership Team—a group of Business School students who have spearheaded efforts to disseminate the ethics oath—is not an official student group, which presents another barrier to participating in Class Day ceremonies. Daubin said that the inclusion of the oath signing would amount to an “explicit endorsement” of the organization promoting the MBA oath by the Business School.
In addition, there exists a “strong vocal minority” at the Business School that opposes the oath, Chun said.
A poll taken by The Harbus—the Business School’s student newspaper—in September showed that 59 percent of polled members of the Class of 2010 did not plan on signing the oath.
“We wouldn’t want to ruin [that minority’s] Class Day,” Chun said. “We think that goes against the idea of Class Day, and we have to do what is in the benefit of the whole student body.”
Andrew N. Sridhar, a second year MBA student who wrote an editorial critiquing the MBA oath in The Harbus, noted that the wording of the oath incorporated elements that could be construed to further a liberal political agenda—such as a promise “to create sustainable economic, social, and environmental prosperity worldwide.”
Members of The MBA Oath Leadership Team said that the language of the oath has been modified but remains similar to last year’s version.
The Business School administration has final say over Class Day activities and could overturn the Student Association’s decision. The Oath Team plans to launch a marketing campaign in the hopes of rallying enough support among the student body to earn the oath ceremony a spot at Class Day, said Lawrence M. Estrada, a second year MBA student and a member of the Team.
At least 10 business schools worldwide have adopted the MBA oath. Current business practitioners can also sign the Management Oath, which contains the same language and was signed by about 200 members of the Forum of Young Global Leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January.
“From my perspective, I’m pretty amazed at the amount of progress that’s been made in literally a year in terms of students who have signed up and infrastructure built to create a body of oversight,” said HBS Professor Rakesh Khurana, who has been involved with the movement since its inception.
But the global recognition attained by the movement has not gained it support among the student body at the Business School, according to Chun and Daubin.
“The only thing the Oath Team has done on the HBS campus this year was hold one panel of professors, which was a great event,” Daubin said. “Otherwise, they’ve been writing editorials in external news sources like The Washington Post.”
—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at email@example.com.
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