Dan Gilmore, MBA Class of 2014

Last academic year, I typed up my thoughts on Grade Non-Disclosure and posted them to the Class of 2014 Facebook page.  They became part of a robust discussion of GND among both MBA1s and MBA2s, and the Oppy requested to print them here.  I feel considerably more passionately about the note that follows them.

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I’m a Sternie against Grade Non-Disclosure.

I’m committing these thoughts to paper because I read the Town Hall materials and noticed glaring omissions. (On both sides.) Before we make a decision next week, it behooves us to understand the issue as robustly and exhaustively as possible. The discussion points simply aren’t all there yet.

I want to respond to the arguments for GND as enumerated at the Town Hall. To those, I’ll add two points I’ve heard separately.

Arguments for GND at the Town Hall were as follows:

Anecdotally, interviews have already been adjusted to be more technical at most firms to accommodate for GND at other schools.

How technical an interview is or isn’t matters only if you’re invited to interview in the first place. Eliminating grades from the equation shifts the focus of recruiters’ assessments toward past work experience and undergraduate institution. Our grades at Stern, ironically, are the single dimension on which to compare apples to apples beyond the GMAT. GND is swell if you’re going from finance to finance, or from consulting to consulting, and so can land an interview on the basis of your past experience; for a non-traditional or career switcher, disallowing grades as a differentiating factor is an aggressive disservice.

Without access to grades, interviewers will have no choice but to get to know interviewees better without the bias of grades. Grades are not a complete measure of individuals’ abilities.

Nothing is a complete measure of individuals’ abilities. No one has ever, to my knowledge, said as much about grades. And it’s unclear why grades are being characterized as a source of “bias” rather than as a data point. Is past work experience a source of “bias”? Is GMAT score a source of “bias”? Is attending Stern? (Are we individually in favor of bias when we think it will help us, and against it when it won’t?)

Many top schools already have GND in place; does it make Stern look bad not to have one?

This is a dangerous line of thinking. Harvard and several other top schools also teach almost exclusively via cases. Should we rebuild each of our classes on a pile of cases because lectures make Stern look bad? Keeping up with the Joneses for its own sake is almost never a good idea, and if you think the difference in recruiters’ eyes between HBS or GSB and Stern boils down to the presence or absence of GND, you may need to have a sit-down with yourself.

GND does not mean your grades are hidden forever; companies still have access to your transcripts later.

Here, “later” presumably means “after you have a job, when no one will ask for or care about your transcript again. Ever.”

Students will still have to prepare for class because you will still receive grades and companies will have access to your transcripts after an offer is accepted.

Please see above.

Students have more incentive to take the harder classes on topics they are more passionate about without fear of a bad grade.

This one rankles most. If you’re passionate about a class, TAKE IT. My goodness. If fear of a bad grade is holding you back, you may not be as passionate about it as you think you are. (It bears noting here that nearly everyone takes Corporate Finance, which for the bulk of us is an elective, and which has a far less generous curve than most core classes.)

Students will no longer have to game class scheduling for grade purposes (i.e., taking finance second semester).

No one has to “game” class scheduling. No one’s forcing you. It’s a choice. If it’s a choice you make, accept the consequences of taking finance second semester – whatever those may be – and don’t complain. We’re all adults.

With less pressure on grades, students may feel more driven to engage in recruiting events, projects, start-ups, clubs, or activities outside of the classroom, which may result in more public exposure for Stern MBAs and better brand recognition.

I’m not convinced Stern is suffering from a lack of brand recognition. It’s a top-tier business school. It has an international reputation. And the business school equivalent of the 3Cs, I think most of us would agree, is Academics-Clubs-Recruiting. Saw down any further the academic leg of the stool – which for most of us gets short enough shrift as it is, let’s be honest – and we might as well just make the degree a series of internships and be done with it. Why bother with classes at all? I don’t know a single person who isn’t busy-to-bursting with clubs, term-time internships, and recruiting already.

GND enhances the collaborative nature of the Stern community and reinforces what it is to be a “Sternie.”

This one I’ll save for the moment.

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The two other arguments in favor of GND I’ve heard are that it hampers Stern’s ability to attract the best applicants and that, if a recruiter is looking at applications from a Harvard MBA, a Stanford MBA, and a Stern MBA, she’s probably already going to be biased in favor of Harvard and Stanford, and revealing a less-than-perfect Stern GPA will doom our application. Regarding the former, my best reply is that all of us are here, and presumably some of us were admitted to programs with GND policies and chose Stern anyway. I’d be willing to bet that, in the constellation of factors that determine how people choose schools, GND is way down the list, behind prestige/rankings, recruiting relationships, alumni network, tuition/scholarships, academic disciplines, location, and campus visits/word of mouth. It GND were a brand, its TOMA score would be 0. No one is turning down Stern because it doesn’t have a GND policy.

Regarding the HBS/GSB/Stern hypothetical, when you subtract the GPA, you’re abstracting your application more toward the Stern brand. If the argument is that the HBS and GSB brands are stronger in the eyes of the recruiter, then subtracting data points and making yourself less granular as an applicant makes you less competitive, not more, regardless of your GPA. Preserving an air of “mystery” about your GPA may not be doing you the service you think it is.

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I believe GND would piss recruiters off, which is ill-advised given that recruiters’ estimation of Stern is one of the greatest drags on our rankings as a school. A handful of top schools can pull the GND stunt and get away with it – recruiters will still play ball because they have to. They’re not going to stop recruiting at Harvard. HBS could arguably decree that they were only going to show up to interviews in their pajamas, and McKinsey and Goldman recruiters would grit their teeth and pass the Cheerios. But would they prefer they be dressed like grown-ups? And would they prefer to know their grades in order to inform their decisions further? Yes. It’s a mistake to think that GND is something that recruiters admire or look kindly on.

I believe GND would piss professors off. The last thing they want is for students to be even less engaged in class, and spending more time checking Facebook under their desks. (Guilty.) It’s demoralizing. And core? Forget it. If it doesn’t matter and it’s not an elective, there’s not a snowball’s chance we’ll put our best foot forward.

I believe GND would piss all of us off, frankly. No one wants to be in the group or team where someone says, “This grade doesn’t matter. This is good enough.”

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Taking the GND proposal to its logical extreme, we might ask why we should disclose anything to recruiters at all. I’m not my GMAT score, either; I’m not my work experience; I’m not my board positions in student clubs, or term-time internships. We could collectively agree not to share résumés, and when recruiters asked us exactly how we propose to be sorted, we could always suggest a lottery: 30 lucky Sternies, drawn from a hat. But I suspect each of us would find this kind of purely collaborative approach… unsavory. I suspect when we saw the person who tanked our group work and rarely showed up for class drawing the BCG straw, or the JPMorgan straw, we’d think for a moment that the straw should have been ours.

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Personal anecdote-slash-confession: I was doing pretty well in stats last semester, so I spent the night before the final exam watching Céline Dion videos on Hulu. It was my last exam, I was burnt, my sister-in-law was in labor with my first nephew – whatever, no excuses, I still watched “That’s the Way It Is” and ate Ben & Jerry’s in the dark. And then I ate it on the test the next day and snatched my worst full-term grade of the semester. If not for that grade, I’d probably do the same thing again this semester. But it was the grade. And it’s not like I had a lot to prepare – I couldn’t even be bothered to make a proper cheat sheet. This is what I’m dealing with. Maybe your drug of choice isn’t the French Canadian nightingale, but we’re all crushed for time, we all have things we’d rather be doing, and without the pressure of grades that count for something, performance suffers.

Sometime in January, I heard a rumor that one of my blockmates pulled a 4.0 for first semester. My first thought was of the late Sahara Davenport, discussing Tyra Sanchez’s controversial win in Season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race: “You can’t take it from her… the b—- turned it.” My blockmate turned it, too. Homegirl was forever on point in class – quietly, without ostentation – and she performed. And she was exactly what I needed. When I was younger, and a runner, I’d always shake out just behind the lead pack, the pace-setters, watching their heels flashing up and down, hypnotized. They drew me through many brutal afternoons. I’m watching this classmate’s heels now, and it’s getting me through those nights when I’m crying-drooling tired, and the thought of sending another e-mail or dashing off another cover letter or reading another case makes me want to vomit or sleep for a week or withdraw from school and buy a kiln and throw some fierce bowls in a cabin in a Dakota. She showed me up – and I can honestly say, if we were head-to-head for an internship tomorrow, I’d gladly step back for her and clap. She’s a star.

That’s what collaboration is. That’s what community is. Collaboration is not collectively agreeing not to compete. Collaboration is competition – not cutthroat, to be sure, but the kind that compels you to dig deeper and push yourself further. There’s a reason why Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres trained together, despite the fact that they despised one another – their competition ignited their practices. And they each killed it at the Sydney Olympics. With grades that count, we’ll work harder, we’ll learn more, we’ll have better conversations and deeper group experiences – and after we graduate, we’ll go out into the world and prove ourselves in our careers and in our personal lives. That’s how we build this brand.

I’m not Jenny or Dara, and I don’t despise a single one of you. In fact, on days when I’m shit- talking the entire MBA proposition, you’re collectively the thing I return to that makes me think this all has been worth it. But I still want to take each of you down in the classroom. And I sincerely hope you want to take me down, too. Gently and with affection. I’ll be watching your heels.

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Disclaimer: It’s highly unlikely I would have agreed to rewrite this piece; frankly, it’s not a good use of time.  GND will pass.  It was most recently voted on half a year ago.  A new class, nearly vibrating anxiety and idealism, has replaced last year’s MBA2s, who voted in light of experience with two cycles of recruiting, and, based on willingness to go on record, in greater numbers against GND.  GND will pass – if not now, soon.  Next year.  Next month.  Next week.  Apparently we’ll revisit the issue whenever perceived sentiment compels us to do so.

GND is a sideshow.  That it’s not ultimately important does not disqualify it from due consideration and debate.  But make no mistake: when GND passes, nothing will change.  There are actual challenges, real considerations, surrounding Stern’s relationships with recruiters and perceived value in the eyes of employers.  We’d all be better off is these were debated with a fraction of the ardor and frequency of GND.

GND is the compact fluorescent lightbulb solution to rising oceans.  It sure feels nice to do something, though.

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