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Harvard Faculty Overwhelmingly Vote to Allow Seniors Disciplined Over Encampment to Graduate

Members of the Harvard faculty voted to add 13 seniors back to the list of degrees for conferral in May.
Members of the Harvard faculty voted to add 13 seniors back to the list of degrees for conferral in May. By Charles K. Michael
By Tilly R. Robinson and Neil H. Shah, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated May 20, 2024, at 9:15 p.m.

Members of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences overwhelmingly voted to add 13 students back to the list of degrees recommended for conferral in May after the students were initially barred from graduating at Commencement over their participation in the pro-Palestine encampment.

The vote, which took place at the FAS’ degree meeting Monday afternoon, amounted to a stunning rebuke of the Harvard College Administrative Board’s decision to suspend five students and place at least 20 more on probation for violating University policies during the 20-day encampment in Harvard Yard.

In total, 15 seniors were barred from graduating this spring by the Ad Board for their involvement in the encampment. Two of them were slated to graduate after the fall 2024 semester, however, so their degrees were not discussed at Monday’s meeting.

Six faculty members who were in attendance were granted anonymity to discuss the meeting, as the FAS’ degree meetings are not open to the press.

The matter will now be passed along to Harvard’s governing boards: the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers. According to the University’s governing statutes, following faculty approval, degrees are conferred “by vote of the Corporation, with the consent of the Overseers.”

A final decision on the seniors’ graduation statuses is expected to be made on Wednesday, as the boards convene each year on the day before Commencement.

The approved motion gave a harsh reality check to the Ad Board and its chair, Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana, saying that under Harvard’s governing statutes, the FAS “is the ultimate disciplinary body” for the College.

Citing the statutes, the motion also described the FAS as “the ultimate authority” on academic probation policies and degree conferral for Harvard College students — in effect, an assertion that the buck stops with the faculty.

Harvard’s Fifth Statute grants each faculty the ability to “delegate any of its powers relating to ordinary matters of administration and discipline,” and the Eleventh Statute assigns that power to an Administrative Board or similar body. However, the statutes assert that disciplinary committees remain “subject to the authority” of the faculties.

FAS spokesperson Holly J. Jensen and University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain did not immediately comment for this article.

In a May 14 email to Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine organizers, interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 noted that the authority to administer disciplinary measures was “within the jurisdictions of the several faculties.” That email came days before the Ad Board announced its penalties — which student protesters interpreted as a reversal of their agreement with Garber, though he never explicitly promised leniency.

At Monday’s meeting, it was made clear to attendees that the motion did not, in fact, reverse Ad Board sanctions levied against students. Rather, it treated the question of whether their degrees would be granted as an independent matter.

Before the motion came up for a vote, one attendee spoke to ask a procedural question but all other speakers were in favor of the proposed action. Of the FAS’ 888 voting faculty members, FAS spokesperson Holly J. Jensen wrote that 115 attended the meeting — an unusually high turnout for proceedings that are usually pro forma.

Following the motion’s approval, Khurana spoke to “set the record straight” and defend the Ad Board’s decision, according to one of the faculty members who attended. He said the body had done its best under tough circumstances and that it had acted responsibly.

A faculty member spoke after the motion to argue that the procedure for changing the degree list had been rushed and speculated that — had more faculty been present — a higher proportion would have voted against the motion.

Nonetheless, many faculty across the University have expressed their disapproval of the Ad Board’s sanctions, including more than 350 who signed an open letter to Garber, FAS Dean Hopi E. Hoekstra, and Khurana.

The Monday letter slammed the penalties as “unprecedented, disproportionate, and arbitrary” and called on Harvard to reverse the Ad Board’s decision to sanction graduating seniors.

Correction: May 20, 2024

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that more than 150 faculty attended Monday’s FAS meeting. In fact, there were 115 faculty members at the meeting.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at tilly.robinson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @tillyrobin.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at neil.shah@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @neilhshah15.

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