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Harvard College Required 51 Students to Withdraw Last Year for Academic Underperformance

By J. Sellers Hill and Nia L. Orakwue, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard College Administrative Board placed nearly 150 students on probation and required 51 to withdraw for academic underperformance during the 2021-22 school year — a five-year high — according to a report released by the school at the beginning of the fall semester.

The actions were taken as part of the Ad Board’s “academic review” process, which examines the academic records of all students who “receive unsatisfactory grades or who fail to meet the College’s minimum academic requirements,” according to the Ad Board’s website. The review is also sometimes applied to students who fail to meet certain degree requirements.

The Ad Board is an administrative body responsible for the application and enforcement of Harvard College policies. Chaired by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and composed of approximately 30 College administrators and faculty, its responsibilities also include approving student petitions, enforcing academic standards, and disciplining students.

The academic review cases are distinct from disciplinary actions taken against students for “social behavior,” including sexual misconduct and drug and alcohol offenses. They also do not include cases of academic dishonesty, which have been adjudicated by the Harvard Honor Council since 2015.

According to the Ad Board’s website, students may be required to withdraw if they receive a second consecutive unsatisfactory record or fail to meet minimum academic requirements.

To meet minimum requirements, students must receive no more than one failing grade, or a grade lower than D-. If they do receive a failing grade, they can meet minimum requirements as long as they receive no unsatisfactory grades — those lower than C- — and earn a satisfactory grade in at least one letter-graded Faculty of Arts and Sciences course for credit.

The Ad Board data does not provide a more detailed breakdown of why this year’s 51 students were forced to withdraw.

Students who are forced to withdraw — the most severe sanction short of dismissal — are required to work a full-time, paid, non-academic job for more than six months before petitioning to return to the College. This withdrawal normally lasts for one academic year; however, a second offense can see a student be required to withdraw again or be fully dismissed.

In the 2021-22 school year, four students were permanently dismissed from the College following academic review, the most in at least five years. Typically, students who are required to withdraw from the College for a second time are not readmitted, per the College’s handbook.

According to the new report, the 2021-22 academic year saw 149 students placed on probation for academic underperformance.

Students are generally placed on probation — an official change in a student’s status — for a first unsatisfactory record.

Harvard spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo declined to comment on the statistics but reiterated the College’s commitment to transparent data reporting.

The Ad Board’s busiest job is not academic or disciplinary review, but approving various petitions for undergraduates, including those for leaves of absence, summer school credit, and simultaneous enrollment. The body released its petition statistics in the early fall semester for the 2021-22 academic year.

According to statistics released by the board for the 2021-22 school year, 478 students were approved to take makeup exams for medical reasons, more than the previous four years combined.

The 2021-22 academic year also saw a record 317 approvals to “bracket” a course, which is a petition to allocate an undergraduate class credit toward a graduate degree.

The number of students approved for a voluntary leave of absence, at 270, was roughly in line with pre-Covid numbers. The year prior, in 2019-20, a record 1,850 students petitioned and were approved for leaves of absence amid a heavily restricted campus.

—Staff writer J. Sellers Hill can be reached at Follow him on X @SellersHill.

—Staff writer Nia L. Orakwue can be reached at Follow her on X @nia_orakwue.

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