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Copenhagen Business School

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Copenhagen Business School

Six students complain about temporary suspension – CBS stands by its decision

(Photo by Anna Holte)

Six students have been temporarily suspended for what CBS calls violating CBS rules and regulations by signing an invitation to a “Slutty Fall Break” party hosted by “Vejlederteamet”. The six students have hired a lawyer and complained about the decision. Now, they want the Danish Agency for Science and Higher Education to look into the matter. The President of CBS has declined to answer follow-up questions.

News |   15. Jan 2020

Anne M. Lykkegaard

Journalist

Right now, Signe, Oliver, Matilde, Frederik, Emilie and Christian can do nothing but wait.

On December 6, they were temporarily suspended from CBS and their study program, BSc in European Business (EB), until August 31, 2020 – meaning they are excluded from attending any exams and lectures and are not eligible for SU.

Now, however, they have filed a complaint with the Danish Agency for Science and Higher Education about CBS’ decision and hope this results firstly in delaying the effect so that they can return to their studies at the beginning of February, and ultimately that CBS’ decision is annulled.

The six students have been temporarily suspended for violating CBS’s rules and regulations on academic conduct and rules for ethical behavior in relation to intro activities. However, the six students do not believe they have violated any of the rules or contracts issued by CBS regarding the intro period, spanning from August 19 to 31, 2019.

I cannot understand that CBS is choosing to draw the line at us specifically when it has nothing to do with the intro program or violating a contract

Signe

More specifically, the six students, who were either intro guides or intro administrators for the new students attending the BSc in European Business program in the autumn of 2019, made a public event on Facebook entitled “Slutty Fall Break”. The event, which was made with the six students’ private Facebook profiles, was signed “Vejlederteamet”, which refers to the group of six students. (See invitation below).

We have talked to Signe, who during the interview speaks on behalf of the entire group. The students do not wish to have their last names published, but CBS WIRE is familiar with them.

“We received the letter about the suspension five days before our first exam and it literally came out of thin air. As far as I know, no one has been suspended for anything like this before. Besides, our case is in a grey area, and we think the sentence we have received is very harsh,” says Signe, stressing that none of the activities in the invitation actually happened at the party, as it was intended as a joke. Furthermore, the event was held after the official intro period spanning from August 19 to 31 2019.

After the event was published on Facebook on September 12, the Danish newspaper Berlingske stumbled upon the event and sent it to the Senior Management of CBS, who took up the case.

At this point, no students from the BSc in European Business had complained about the official intro activities or the post for the Facebook event, which was scheduled for October 11, explains Signe, adding that the Study Start Evaluation Report of BSc in European Business’ intro activities “was very good”.

But even though the event was held after the official intro period, CBS argues in its response from December 6, 2019 to the students that: “The content of the Facebook post is of a nature that is not consistent with CBS’ values and obviously contradicts The Rules for Ethical Behavior. The post is clearly written in a manner that can be offensive and clearly includes references to sexual activities, including some of a sexist nature, and encourages unrestrained drinking.”

“The invitation to the ‘Slutty Fall Break’ party was signed ‘Vejlederteamet’, and the event therefore appeared to be part of or related to the intro program and your roles as counsellors at CBS.”

CBS WIRE has asked the President of CBS, Nikolaj Malchow-Møller some follow-up questions regarding the matter and in relation to intro in general. Nikolaj Malchow-Møller does not wish to comment.

The six students did not agree with CBS’ decision at the time and still disagree, as they have not mentioned CBS in the invitation in any way or written that it was part of the intro festivities, explains Signe. Therefore, they teamed up with a lawyer and on December 10 sent a complaint to CBS about the decision, and requested a delay in the suspensions from December 11 while the case was reopened. But on December 13, CBS declined to accept the delay.

The students’ only other option was to file a second complaint to CBS and approach the Danish Agency for Science and Higher Education if CBS stood by its decision. The complaint was sent on December 20. On January 8, 2020, CBS stated in an email to the students that it stands by its decision from December 6. Now, the six students have the opportunity to comment on CBS’ final statement before it is sent to the Danish Agency for Science and Higher Education.

“Technically, we could risk waiting about a year for the agency’s decision, but according to CBS, the agency has promised to prioritize the request for a delay in effect, as we need an answer before January 27, which is the date when our fourth semester begins,” says Signe.

Once an intro guide, always an intro guide?

In the fall of 2015, new CBS students stepped forward and talked about extremely insulting activities during their intro week at CBS. These activities included licking whipped cream off bananas placed in between men’s legs, quizzes asking the students to reveal private details about their sex lives, and building vaginas out of condoms and kitchen utensils.

Because of the cases in 2015, for the 2016 semester start, CBS introduced a new set of rules for the intro week concept, and from 2017 has run boot camps on how to behave according to the rules for its intro guides (for intro admins these began in 2019). Furthermore, CBS has run several campaigns on good behavior around the semester start to urge CBS students to talk about offensive behavior and encourage students to take care of each other.

When students sign up to be intro administrators and intro guides, they sign a contract in which they agree to have read, understood and accept CBS’ rules and regulations as well as the rules for intro activities. However, in this case, Signe and Emilie and their two co-admins were never asked to sign the contract, and the party was held after the contracted period.

Signe explains that she and her group of intro guides followed the rules during all the intro activities.

“We were very careful not to violate the rules during our planned intro activities. For example, we didn’t say ‘cheers’ to the new students, as it could urge the students to drink, and we informed all the students about the rules for not drinking before 5PM and so on,” she says.

In the decision from January 8, CBS points out that the rules for ethical behavior state that the intro guides “… Outside the program-scheduled periods…” have to “… demonstrate conduct that is appropriate for representing CBS.” Furthermore, CBS writes that “CBS – based on incidents during the intro in 2016 – introduced and has continuously highlighted The Rules for Ethical Behavior. In this way, CBS has clarified that actions that can be connected to CBS, including the intro program, are covered by both the Code of Conduct and The Rules for Ethical Behavior.”

But this puzzles Signe.

“The party we held wasn’t part of the intro activities. It was a private party arranged by us and signed “Vejlederteamet” because that’s what most people call us as a group. But since we have been suspended, it must mean that we must follow the intro rules for the rest of our time at CBS. And I’m very surprised about that,” she says and continues:

“I don’t believe that any intro guide or intro administrator condones the rules always being in effect. This hasn’t been specified anywhere or explained to us. The rules are made for the intro activities, and our party wasn’t part of the planned intro activities.”

She gives an example:

“Let’s say the intro rules are in effect for the rest of the time I am studying at CBS. Does that mean that I can’t go to Nexus on any given day and drink a beer before 5PM? Does it mean that I or any of the students on the intro teams cannot say cheers? Do we have to continue behaving according to the rules?” she asks and continues:

“It hasn’t at any time been clear to us that these rules would count for the rest of our time at CBS. It was not mentioned at the boot camp back in February 2019 either, and it’s not in the contract.”

“The content doesn’t reflect who we are”  

Since the students and their lawyer were informed about CBS’ decision to temporarily suspend them, Signe and her fellow students have tried to get in contact with CBS several times in order to set up a meeting and explain their case.

“When the event was first described in Berlingske on September 19, CBS’ management stated that sanctions would follow. They didn’t contact us in order to sort out things before they made the statement in the newspaper. And that’s not okay,” says Signe, adding that CBS has declined to meet with the students before and after the decision.

“Furthermore, the President of CBS has presented all the cases as the same. Violations of the rules during intro. This is not case with us,” she says.

If CBS had contacted the students before talking to Berlingske, the six students would, according to Signe, have explained that the post was a joke and in no way reflects who they are as persons or intro guides.

But is it okay to joke about these things? Is it appropriate to invite students to and to encourage heavy drinking and sexist behavior?

“Those invited knew it was meant as a joke. Nothing mentioned in the content actually happened at the party, we weren’t in anyway serious about the content and it doesn’t reflect who we are as persons or intro guides,” she says and declines to comment further on the content of the invitation.

When asked if she is sad that the post can give a wrong impression of how students of the BSc in European Business generally behave, she says:

“I’m sorry about that. But I must stress that this has nothing to do with BSc in European Business or how EB students behave. At all. That’s very important for me to say,” she says.

Don’t you understand that CBS is drawing a line here, since for several years they have been trying to curb offensive behavior and sexist language usage?

“I can to some extent understand that CBS needs to set an example so that this hopefully doesn’t happen in the future. But no, I cannot understand that CBS is choosing to draw the line at us specifically when it has nothing to do with the intro program or violating a contract,” she says and continues:

“There is a difference between giving a fair punishment for actually breaking the rules and contract, and throwing its own students under the bus to save its reputation in the media – I don’t think that is a fair line to draw.”

For Signe, the best thing that can happen, right now, is that the Danish Agency for Science and Higher Education allows the students to return to CBS before the end of January while the case is being discussed and that it overturns CBS’ decision for good.

“If January passes with no answer, we will have lost the case, as we will have missed out on the exams, study start, and reexaminations in February. Also, we have a mandatory exchange trip, the first round for applying is over, and the second round is coming up,” she says.

Comments

  1. Susanne Nielsen says:

    I am wondering, if CBS’s Board has agreed on this punishment?
    What is the Chairman of the Board saying?
    Can’t imagine he thinks, that CBS has won anything on this case?
    This punishment is totally out of control.

  2. Wiktoria says:

    For further read&listen on a similar issue please refer to “Harvard Rescinds Acceptances for At Least Ten Students for Obscene Memes”(https://bit.ly/2uPF1cf) and “Online Behavior, Real-Life Consequences” by “HiddenBrain” NPR podcast (https://n.pr/2thB5ko) about an infamous case of 10 Harvad-yet-to-be students who formed a private Facebook group with “obscene memes” to break the ice with other newly admitted Class 2021 students and even though the memes were meant “just a joke”, they got their admission offers rescinded because they engaged in behavior that brings into question their “honesty, maturity or moral character”.

    Elite schools alike Harvard, or CBS, “give their students a golden key to unlock every conceivable door” (NPR, 2019). One could argue that CBS is rightfully safeguarding moral standards for the future Danish and international business leaders, even if it means some untimely and suboptimal judgement calls where a handful of students become scapegoats for the utilitarian greater good for the next student cohorts… Otherwise, would these top-down imposed guidelines on the ethical conduct be taken seriously?

  3. Kevin David says:

    If I understand it right, CBS did nothing until the media got involved and they knew of the case before the party happened? Couldve just said something along the lines of “can you change it this isnt ok” to the organizers… Now it seems to me that its just damage control for CBS.
    Sure the description was wrong, but the punishment is way too severe. Let these kids study and let it be a lesson for everyone, ruining someone’s life for what was (obviously) meant as a joke (however bad) is stupid.

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