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Business School Dean Nitin Nohria Announces New Anti-Racist Efforts After Criticism

Harvard Business School Dean, Nitin Nohria, is pictured in his office in the spring of 2019.
Harvard Business School Dean, Nitin Nohria, is pictured in his office in the spring of 2019. By Sharleen Y. Loh
By Camille G. Caldera, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria announced the creation of an “enduring entity” to anchor anti-racist efforts at the school and committed to sharing a full anti-racist action plan by the start of the fall semester in an email to affiliates Monday.

“The entity will need to be funded and supported for impact and reach,” Nohria wrote. “It will need to include a roadmap for actionable work and desired outcomes for the coming year, three years, and five years and beyond.”

He added that three pillars will guide the endeavor: conducting research and education on racism, supporting Black affiliates within and outside the School, and working with the broader business community on issues of racial discrimination.

“We will also need a set of metrics and a system of accountability to ensure we are making progress,” Nohria wrote. “We will prepare and share the first such report on race at the School before the end of the summer.”

The email comes amid weeks of protests over police brutality and systemic racism across the country after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.

The Business School held a community conversation about race on Thursday. Nohria wrote that the responses to the conversation “varied widely,” from appreciation to disappointment and questions of “Why are we having the same conversation again?"

In another email to affiliates on June 7, Nohria apologized for a lack of previous anti-racist work at the Business School, which has tenured just four Black professors in over a century.

“Today, on behalf of the HBS community, I apologize that we have not fought racism as effectively as we could have and have not served our Black community members better,” he wrote.

After that letter, Steven Rogers — an alumnus of the Business School and a senior lecturer from 2012 to 2019 — told the business-school focused publication Poets & Quants that the Business School perpetuates “systematic anti-black practices.”

“There is an institutionalized racism at Harvard Business School that keeps Blacks out of almost every aspect of the school,” Rogers told Poets & Quants. “It is virtually the same today as it was more than 30 years ago when I was a student.”

Rogers also said that Nohria is “the leader of anti-Black practices at the school and is complicit in them.” Rogers retired in 2019 after he was passed up for a promotion and over his frustrations over the lack of diversity at the Business School.

Nohria was set to step down June 30 after a decade at the helm of the Business School. After the coronavirus pandemic shuttered campus in March, he decided to stay in his post through December.

In his email on June 15, Nohria disputed some of Rogers's comments, though he said school leaders have since “reflected” on them.

“Though it's not appropriate for me to speak publicly on confidential personnel matters, please know that I and other leaders at the School have carefully reflected on Steve's words,” Nohria wrote in his June 15 email. “We believe there are inaccuracies in the piece and are working to share data related to race more transparently. But we cannot dispute Steve's lived experience at HBS—it pains us deeply and we must learn from it.”

Mark Cautela, a spokesperson for the Business School, declined to comment further on personnel matters related to Rogers.

Rogers first wrote to University President Lawrence S. Bacow about his concerns over racism at the Business School in 2018. In a copy of his letter published by Poets & Quants, Rogers wrote “There is something terribly wrong at HBS.”

In his reply, also published by Poets & Quants, Bacow wrote that “Nitin is well aware of the need to improve the environment at HBS, where diversity, inclusion, and belonging are concerned.”

In his June 7 email, Nohria vowed to take several “initial steps” towards anti-racism in addition to the long-term action plan.

Immediate changes include creating a page on the website with resources for “racial understanding,” training HBS affiliates on how to engage in discussions about race, developing an annual report to improve transparency on issues of racial equity at the School, using “creative approaches” to recruit and retain Black students, faculty, and staff, and creating a framework for business to use to report their diversity metrics.

“We will seek not just to reduce racism, but to proactively be anti-racist,” Nohria wrote.

At the close of his June 15 note, Nohria wrote that he had to “resist the urge to ask HBS's Black community for patience and trust.”

“People who have waited for centuries to receive what others get at birth should not be asked for patience, and trust must be earned,” he wrote. “I will ask, instead, for the commitment of the entire HBS community to this work.”

—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at camille.caldera@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.

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