Harvard College’s Disciplinary Proceedings, Explained

The Harvard College Administrative Board is under scrutiny for suspending five student protesters and placing more than 20 others on probation. Here is how Harvard’s opaque disciplinary process works.
By Michelle N. Amponsah and Joyce E. Kim

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana observes protesters at the Harvard Yard encampment. Khurana chairs the Harvard College Administrative Board.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana observes protesters at the Harvard Yard encampment. Khurana chairs the Harvard College Administrative Board. By Julian J. Giordano

As the pro-Palestine Harvard Yard encampment raged on at the end of the spring semester, students and administrators were locked in a 20-day standoff punctuated by involuntary leave notices and followed by disciplinary sanctions.

On May 10, more than two weeks after the encampment began, Harvard placed at least 22 students on involuntary leaves of absence. When the encampment ended peacefully just days later, the students were reinstated and offered a meeting with a member of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.

Just one week later, the Harvard College Administrative Board suspended five students and placed more than 20 more on probation for their participation in the demonstration. According to pro-Palestine organizers, at least 12 seniors will be prevented from receiving their diplomas at this Thursday’s Commencement ceremonies as a result of the disciplinary action.

What Are Involuntary Leaves of Absence?

Though the involuntary leaves of absence notices and Ad Board sanctions both came in light of the pro-Palestine Yard encampment, the processes operated in parallel.

The decision to place undergraduates on involuntary leaves of absence is made by Dean of Students Thomas Dunne in consultation with the students’ resident dean and other administrators.

While the involuntary leave of absence is not itself a disciplinary sanction, “an incident that gives rise to a leave of absence, whether voluntary or involuntary, may subsequently be the basis for disciplinary action,” according to the Harvard College Handbook.

If a student has “allegedly violated a disciplinary rule of the College and the student’s presence on campus poses a significant risk to the educational environment” — the reasoning presented on involuntary leave notices sent to undergraduates participating in the encampment — they may be placed on leave.

Students are able to appeal the decision with a committee comprising College and University administrators and chaired by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana. As degree candidates, undergraduates on involuntary leave are still “expected to maintain a satisfactory standard of conduct,” according to the handbook.

What is the College Ad Board?

Despite interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 requesting school deans to rescind the involuntary leave notices following the peaceful dispersal of the encampment, the more than 60 proceedings before the Ad Board remained ongoing.

The Harvard College Ad Board — the body responsible for enforcing the College’s rules and policies — specifically handles disciplinary cases related to student conduct, as well as the College’s plagiarism policies and academic requirements. It is composed of two committees: the Disciplinary Committee and the Petitions Committee.

Chaired by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, the Disciplinary Committee consists of Dean of Student Services Michael Burke, Associate Dean of Students Lauren E. Brandt ’01, Senior Assistant Dean of Residential Life and First-Year Students Nekesa C. Straker, Assistant Dean and Secretary of the Honor Council Qussay Al-Attabi, Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education Meghan Lockwood, and several resident deans and lecturers and preceptors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The Petitions Committee is chaired by Burke and includes Associate Dean of Academic Integrity and Student Conduct William Petrick; FAS Registrar Erika McDonald; Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education, Academic Programs and Policy Gillian B. Pierce ’88; and several resident deans.

Garber and FAS Dean Hopi E. Hoekstra also serve as ex-officio members of the Ad Board.

Both committees are also permitted to invite non-voting guests — including Resident Deans and representatives from Harvard University Health Services, the Disability Access Office, Athletics, Title IX, and more — to its meetings to serve as advisers on student welfare or records.

How Are Ad Board Cases Handled?

When a disciplinary case begins with a complaint made by a University official such as administrative staff or faculty, the case is a non-peer dispute and can result in a range of outcomes — from the Board deciding to take no action, to a requirement to withdraw, to a recommendation for permanent expulsion from Harvard.

Students are asked to withdraw — usually for two to four semesters — when the Ad Board rules their conduct “unacceptable” and decides the student must leave the College “in order to gain perspective on their actions, or to address and resolve any difficulties.”

In all instances when a student is required to withdraw, the Ad Board requires that they hold a full-time, paid, non-academic job in a non-family situation for at least six consecutive months before petitioning for readmission to the College, which can only be granted by a full vote by the Ad Board.

For many protesters, the Ad Board sanctions on protesters — particularly in denying more than a dozen seniors the ability to graduate — marked an excessively harsh punishment at odds with Garber’s messaging to organizers and affiliates.

In his May 14 University-wide message announcing the end of the encampment, Garber wrote that he will ask disciplinary boards within each school to evaluate the cases “expeditiously” and “according to their existing practices and precedents.”

Garber also wrote an email to encampment organizers that the University would encourage the Ad Boards to take “into account the voluntary decision to leave the encampment, for all students,” including those “eligible thereafter to graduate.”

Though Garber’s emails do not explicitly grant clemency to Harvard College seniors, organizers seemed to interpret the emails as such.

In the wake of the Ad Board sanctions, Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine — the unrecognized student organization that staged the encampment — organized an emergency Sunday rally. Several student organizations have also released statements condemning the disciplinary action, circulating a petition to allow seniors to graduate that has garnered more than 1,000 signatures.

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at michelle.amponsah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @mnamponsah.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at joyce.kim@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X at @joycekim324.

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