A tight job market, a faltering economy and corporate governance scandals have left business school students everywhere scrambling for jobs. But when the Harvard Business School's student newspaper vented rising frustrations in a cartoon, the school administration took it personally.
The paper, The Harbus, ran a cartoon entitled, "Pre-Hell Week Horror Story," in its Oct. 28 issue, and depicted a career services Web site overflowing with error messages.
The cartoon was in reference to a career services computer glitch that had confused a number of students' interview schedules.
October's "Hell Week," even when run smoothly, is exceptionally stressful for Harvard's job-seeking MBA students, who arrange to meet as many corporate recruiters as possible before the week's end.
The Harbus cartoon referred to the Web site as the "HBS Career Dink," but it was one particular pop-up message labeled "Incompetent Morons," that caught the attention of school administrators.
The Director of Harvard's MBA program arranged a Nov. 4 meeting with Harbus Editor-in-Chief Nick Will and the humor section editor.
Two days later, Will resigned as editor of the paper. In a Harbus interview, he attributed his resignation to a warning he received at the meeting that he personally would have to take responsibility for all content published by the paper, and that the warning was the first step in the Community Standards disciplinary process.
The Community Standards code, introduced in 1998, hangs in every classroom and building at the business school and every member of the HBS community is asked to sign it. Its three basic principles are respect for others, honesty and accountability.
"How can I as the editor make tough calls about what to print if the administration can sanction me under Community Standards whenever it disagrees?" Will asked in the Harbus interview.
Will then went on to say that invoking Community Standards to influence the free and independent nature of The Harbus is unreasonable.
While The Harbus' legal council reportedly said the cartoon would be protected under the First Amendment, Will considered the "level of personal risk too high" to stay on as editor.
The business school administration, however, denies that the Nov. 4 meeting was in any way meant to punish Will or The Harbus.
David Lampe, a spokesman for HBS Dean Kim Clark, insisted that these sorts of conversations are common and are held in an advisory capacity, not a disciplinary one.
"In no way was this conversation meant to constrict the freedom of The Harbus to manage its own affairs," Lampe said.
"The senior administration of the MBA program just felt that this kind of name calling didn't show the kind of respect we typically use for one another in our community."
And, while the press has generally seized on this incident as an issue of free speech, Lampe said the tensions that led to the cartoon are due to the tight job market, and that the main concern on campus is in actuality mainly about career services' ability to do its job.
"By devoting more resources to Career Services," Lampe said, "we're addressing the underlying student need that caused this problem."
Nonetheless, the business school's recent slip to number nine in The Wall Street Journal's rankings, not to mention the school's reported sensitivity to published criticism of its competency, provide fodder for the accusation that the "conversation" with Will was an act of censorship.
In this spirit, the "Incompetent Morons" quip has led to the scandal's enshrinement as "MoronGate," by Harbus writers.Comments powered by Disqus
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