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Sticks and stones injure over at Harvard
November 26, 2002
by Tresa McBee

I feel for sensitive folks. I really do. Life must be one big bruise. It's tough being delicate.

Just ask the powers-that-be over at Harvard Business School. It's been a rough year, what with a recent employer survey of business schools that ranked HBS an appalling No. 9. That another survey put Harvard slightly higher at No. 3 doesn't help much. Image: It counts.

So it really stung that those rascally students over at The Harbus, the business school's independent student newspaper, had to go and point out that slight snafu with HBS Career Link in an Oct. 28 cartoon, "Pre Hell Week Horror Story."

The editorial cartoon lampooned computer problems that messed up students' interview schedules during an intense interview week. With the job market tight and high salaries even tighter, one can understand how missing a meeting with a potential employer might cause distress among the Ivy League of the Ivy League. One doesn't attend Harvard to be subject to computer problems that plague the rest of us.

The Harbus cartoon transformed HBS Career Link into HBS Career Dink with pop-up error messages, including one sure to rankle in-charge types who pass the buck when it becomes clear they shouldn't be in charge: "Career Services absolves itself of any and all responsibility for the functionality of Career Dink despite the fact that we selected the vendor."

But that wasn't the worst of it for those delicate souls in charge at HBS. It was the cartoon's "incompetent morons" pop-up that did it. Cue the sirens and call the sensitivity police.

The head of the business school's MBA Career Services, which runs the computers, told administrators he was offended. So the executive director of the MBA program met with Nick Will, The Harbus' editor-in-chief, to explain the school's dismay that an editorial cartoon would be so hurtful.

And let's not forget a favorite among academics these days -- "community standards," which Will was told he violated. Long story short, Will says he was warned by school administrators to steer clear of questionable language and that he would be personally accountable for all content if some educrat found future offense.

A principled fellow, Will rightly resigned.

And the backpedaling began.

Because, really, if that cartoon had just been nice and avoided wounding language, this whole incident could have been avoided. Besides, administrators were under the impression that any meeting with Will would remain unofficial. As in, don't tell anyone we attempted to intimidate you into submission. It's good practice for backroom deals.

See, this was supposed to be an informal discussion regarding sensitivity and how best to serve the Harvard community, which clearly doesn't happen when students point out problems. People have feelings.

As Carl Kester, chairman of the MBA program, told The Boston Globe, the cartoon's injurious "incompetent morons" pop-up appeared to insult career-services employees.

"If it weren't for those two words, nothing would have been said or done to the students," Kester explained. "There was just a palpable sense that this had damaged the feelings of people working very hard on behalf of students." Boo-hoo. Pass the hanky.

Oh, and -- so what? Who cares? Rather than whining about damaged self-esteem on account of those meany students, how about fixing the computer problem so it doesn't recur? Acquiring a thicker skin would be useful, too.

And don't forget a dictionary. Because those hypersensitive Harvard MBAs need to put aside all that number crunching as they groom future Enronites long enough to look up "satire," which employs sarcasm and ridicule to make fun of things that are easily made fun of -- like a computer system that doesn't do what it's designed to do. Looking up "editorial" wouldn't hurt either. It's called an opinion, and you don't have to like it.

But beyond the issue of an independent student newspaper exercising its free speech is this: We have too many whiners who offend too easily -- or cloak themselves in sensitivity to exert control. It infects our institutions at all levels, resulting in corporate bureaucracies that are ineffective, because we're too busy shielding incompetence and driving off and silencing those who speak straight.

Harvard's Kester told the Globe, "Our students are going to be leading organizations and people someday, and they need to learn from time to time about how their words and actions might influence others."

Mr. Kester and his ilk need to heed that sanctimonious advice.

Copyright, Northwest Arkansas Times. Tresa McBee writes for the Northwest Arkansas Times and can be reached at tresam@nwarktimes.com.

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