Ad Board Editorial Flawed and Inaccurate

To the editors:


Having finished a year-and-a-half of service as a faculty member of the Ad Board last June, I was shocked by The Crimson’s opinion of the Ad Board (“Bad Board,” editorial, Oct. 22). First, it was simply riddled with factual errors. For example, contrary to your statement that resident deans are “outranked” by the faculty, in fact there are only two or three faculty members on the Ad Board at any time, and over a dozen resident deans; we all get equal votes. Even if we didn’t take the resident deans seriously as you suggest (and we do), they could simply outvote us. As another example, contrary to your statement, in disciplinary cases students are always allowed to present their side of the story, both in written form and by attending an Ad Board meeting, where students can make a statement and, if they choose, respond to questions. I could go on.

Second, your editorial fundamentally misunderstands the Ad Board’s setup and purpose. You complain that students cannot hire an attorney for an Ad Board hearing. That is because the Ad Board is not a legal institution, like a court or the police, but an academic institution, to administrate the rules of the college. The Ad Board’s purpose is fundamentally education, not punishment. As you quote, the Ad Board is “primarily concerned for the educational and personal growth of undergraduates, both as individuals and as members of the Harvard community.” Sometimes, when a rule is broken, a punishment must be given, but we view that as a learning process for the student. Attorneys should not be a part of that learning process, much in the same way you can’t hire a lawyer to complain about or negotiate for a better grade in my class. (Please don’t try.)

Finally, your article includes what I would call errors not of fact but of spirit. You say “rulings are clear before it [the Ad Board] convenes.” That’s a surprise to me, as I regularly spent multiple hours in these meetings each week listening to and deliberating cases. Punishments are not, as you say, “one-size-fits-all”; we discuss the appropriate response for each case, based on the rules of the Faculty and the needs of the individual student. We take seriously both these rules and these needs, with the goal of best serving both the students that come before us and serving the larger Harvard community.

I understand that, as you say, going before the Ad Board is intimidating and terrifying for a student. They are generally there because there is an accusation that they have broken a rule of the College, and there may be consequences. I know of no system we could possibly set up where that wouldn’t be intimidating and terrifying. But students should know going in that the Ad Board will listen to them, fairly, and that no punishment is given lightly.


MICHAEL D. MITZENMACHER ’91
Cambridge, Mass.
Oct. 24, 2008


The writer is a Professor of Computer Science at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.