Can MBA Students Benefit From A Non-Attribution Policy?

When talking with others, we sometimes say, “Now don’t tell anyone I said ….” Such statements are a request for non-attribution. The request is just for the case at hand and incorporated easily into the conversation. On the other hand, group settings, such as MBA classrooms, pose a different problem. Can you imagine an MBA classmate during a class discussion prefacing a comment with, “Now, don’t say I said this but my company …?” That situation is unlikely because when a student with valuable real world experiences to share is concerned about attribution, he or she is usually unwilling to participate in an open discussion. Unfortunately, the result is a missed learning opportunity for the class. One way of addressing the concerns of students regarding attribution is for the MBA class or the MBA program to adopt a non-attribution policy.

What is a non-attribution policy?

Non-attribution policies help protect speakers and promote openness in a prescribed setting. In an academic environment, non-attribution policies provide guest speakers, students, and instructors some level of assurance that individual participants will not attribute to them by name any statement, comment, or remark unless specifically authorized to do so. On the other hand, journalists use “off-the-record” commenting—a more restrictive form of non-attribution—to ensure sources that the information they provide is to help with a decision or to provide a confidential explanation, which is not for publication. In both of these settings, well-defined expectations and boundaries are established.

Why would an MBA class or program want to impose a non-attribution policy?

By defining expectations and boundaries in an MBA program, a non-attribution policy would encourage:

  • MBA students and guest speakers to express their views freely and candidly
  • Rich discussions and the free exchange of ideas
  • Full freedom of expression during all academic endeavors

When MBA students and guest speakers express themselves openly and candidly, discussions are more robust because of the free exchange of ideas. Thus, the group has a better learning experience and fewer missed learning opportunities.

For whom should a non-attribution policy apply?

The primary purpose of a non-attribution policy is to protect. In the context of an MBA program, some form of protection may be appropriate for students in a class setting, in a team setting, one-on-one conversation, and for guest speakers. Therefore, at a minimum, it seems the policy would apply to students and guest speakers. On the other hand, if the policy applies to the entire MBA program, protection could expand to include faculty members teaching in the program.

What assurances do non-attribution policies provide?

A non-attribution policy’s level of assurance depends on the expectations and boundaries the policy is to cover. The following statements demonstrate ways a policy can address assurance:

  • What is said in an MBA lecture, posted on an MBA course website, or mentioned in other electronic, written, or verbal methods, will not be attributed to an individual outside the classroom, regardless of classification, disclaimer, or public domain.
  • Presentations to MBA classes—or to other MBA program-sponsored audiences—will be held in strict confidence.
  • All participants in the MBA program—speakers, students, and guests—will not have their remarks and opinions quoted publicly or otherwise attributed to them without their express consent.
  • MBA students and other participants will not attribute statements to an MBA class speaker in public media or forums or knowingly transmit the statements to persons who will enter such statements into the public arena.

You can see how each statement defines expectations and establishes boundaries. Like these, most good academic policies with which I am familiar are simple and to the point. Usually, a sentence or two is sufficient for a good policy statement.

Is a non-attribution policy necessary for MBA programs and classes?

The short answer is: probably not. However, creating an environment that promotes learning is not easy when involving a large number of strangers. Creating a good MBA learning atmosphere involves promoting trust and knowledge- sharing among the participants. By adopting a non-attribution policy, MBA programs and MBA students are helping to promote both trust and knowledge-sharing, thus enhancing the MBA learning environment.

It has been my experience that while few MBA students think about non-attribution from a program or class standpoint, even fewer program administrators and faculty think about it in this context. To my knowledge, no MBA programs have a written non-attribution policy. What about your MBA program? Does it have a non-attribution policy? Please let the MyeEMBA readers know by adding a comment or sharing the policy.

Rodney G. Alsup, D.B.A., CPA, CITP

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

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