Harvard Business School has moved most of its M.B.A. classes online following a spate of breakthrough Covid-19 infections among its students.
The move to remote instruction for all first-year courses and some second-year courses will run until at least Oct. 3, the school said, and comes about a month after the start of classes. It is one of the first instances of a major university halting some in-person instruction this fall and signifies the challenges that schools, which have traditionally attracted students with their in-person teaching and socializing, face as they bring students back.
Students at the business school accounted for two-thirds of all Covid-19 cases among Harvard students this month, according to an email sent to M.B.A. students late last week that was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. A separate email sent Sunday said total M.B.A. student cases surged 20% in three days, prompting the school to put many M.B.A. classes back online until the school could reassess the situation.
“We are a complete outlier among Harvard schools in our numbers,” said the email, which was signed by several Harvard administrators including HBS Dean Srikant Datar. “Our positivity rate is 12 times that of the rest of Harvard. These distressing figures are so high that they have attracted the scrutiny of local public-health officials.”
The decision was made by the university’s leaders, who were advised to go remote by city and state public-health officials, said Mark Cautela, a spokesman for the business school.
Harvard University reported Monday that in the past week, 60 of 74 Covid-19 cases among students, faculty and staff have been among graduate students. The school declined to comment on the exact number of positive cases linked to HBS but said contact tracers found transmission was linked to indoor socializing off campus among individuals who weren’t masked.
Several M.B.A. students at Harvard said some of the business-school cases were connected to a recent string of off-campus parties, including a Gatsby-themed soirée attended by hundreds of people and a large group trip to Puerto Rico in which dozens of first-year students took part. HBS wasn’t involved in the planning or execution of any of the events, the school said.
HBS appears to be the first well-known business school to move most classes online after bringing students back to campus this fall. No other Harvard programs have had to move classes online, the school said. A handful of other universities have temporarily moved classes online for undergraduates to deal with outbreaks, including Rice University in Houston. Rice went back to remote classes for the first two weeks of the semester as Covid-19 cases increased on campus and across Texas, the school said, adding that there were many false-positive tests and the university had moved back to in-person learning.
HBS enrolled its largest-ever M.B.A. cohort this fall, with more than 1,000 students. Last fall’s M.B.A. class was about 20% smaller than normal because so many students took HBS up on an offer to defer admission in the hopes of attending in-person this year.
HBS’s population of more than 1,700 people who are enrolled to earn the two-year degree amounts to roughly 9% of Harvard’s overall student body. At HBS, all students were expected to be vaccinated before returning to campus this fall, except for those with religious or medical exceptions. The university’s student population is 95% vaccinated and 96% of faculty and staff are fully immunized, according to the school.
HBS plans to increase the frequency of testing to three times a week for all students, Mr. Cautela said, and the school asked all students to stop unmasked indoor activities, limit in-person interactions with others outside their household, move group gatherings online and cancel all group travel.
Write to Patrick Thomas at Patrick.Thomas@wsj.com
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Appeared in the September 29, 2021, print edition as ‘Harvard M.B.A. Classes Go Virtual.’