Board Games

Students should consider an alternative to the Ad Board

While the Administrative Board has been a perennial source of frustration among Harvard undergraduates, few students have opted for an alternative body of adjudication. Just recently, however, it came to light that the Undergraduate council is working with the Dean’s office to search for four students to sit on the Student Faculty Judicial Board, a disciplinary body established in 1987 as an alternative to the Administrative Board. The SFJB exists specifically for cases for which the Administrative Board has no precedent and for which the outcome could have community-wide repercussions.

Yet in the last 21 years, the SFJB has heard only two cases—both within the first three years of its establishment. Perhaps this is because the rusty machinery of the Student Faculty Judicial Board stands in stark contrast to the well-oiled Ad Board that forced 23 students to take a leave of absence last year. Perhaps the option seems unappealing to students: According to Max H. Y. Wong ’10, a UC Vice-Presidential candidate, “Resident Deans, to my knowledge, generally very strongly discourage students from attempting this option.” As a result, the SFJB has fallen from student memory; it has not met in thirteen years and has not been populated by Faculty members in the last four.

This must change. If only as an act of protest to the status quo—in which the Ad Board remains in need of serious reform—students with disciplinary cases before the Ad Board should consider availing themselves of this alternative judicial body. Though it remains somewhat unclear as to what cases are meant to be handled by the SFJB—Ad Board precedent is far from codified—all decisions regarding the Board’s purview are ultimately decided by the SFJB, whose members must provide a majority vote before a case can be remanded to the Ad Board against a student’s will.

Beyond the mere act of protest, however, the SFJB takes concrete steps toward the transparency and student advocacy we would like to see the Ad Board emulate. First off, the Board permits students to opt for open hearings—a sharp contrast from the Ad Board’s closed proceedings. While the SFJB may vote such a request down by a two-thirds majority vote, even allowing students the option of public hearings provides a healthy counter to the perception of opacity that plagues the current Ad Board. Moreover, the SFJB mandates both graduate and undergraduate students to serve on the Board itself. While questions of confidentiality and other complications remain, the trust which the Board vests in its student members helps to mitigate the feelings of enmity between the Administration and students that often complicates disciplinary disputes. The SFJB also explicitly allows students to testify in their own defense, to call witnesses on their behalf, and to retain any advisor who is an affiliate of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to speak on the student’s behalf during proceedings—a set of provisions that helps to give students voice in their own disciplinary hearings.

The SFJB, however, is not the answer to the numerous problems of the Ad Board. A loss of institutional memory has left the proceedings of the SFJB just as shrouded if not more, than the Administrative Board. What we do know about the SFJB, though, is in line with our vision of appropriate institutional reform. Options for student representation and more transparent procedures, for example, are qualities that that are appropriate in any fair decision-making body, especially one that handles issues affecting the larger student community.

Even with the SFJB in use, general issues with the Ad Board’s structure must continue to be addressed by the Ad Board Review Committee. Proponents of the current Ad Board system maintain that its educational nature differentiates it from a traditional judicial body, yet they fail to recognize that the resources available to students, no matter how generous, are meaningless unless students are properly appraised of these “rights”—something difficult to ensure when the primary source of information, Resident Deans, are often the very same individuals who inform students of a case against them, advise and consult with them, and then speak on their behalf to the Board itself and participate in deliberations (though it is important to note that a Resident Dean will not vote on a case involving a student for whom they are an advocate). Until this conflict of interest regarding Resident Deans, the lack of student representation on the Board, and other issues of transparency are resolved, the Ad Board will continue to be a source of frustration among students.

A decision en masse to pursue disciplinary cases before the SFJB instead of the Ad Board will hopefully impress upon the Administration a need for urgent change. And with a clear mandate from students about the need for change, we hope the Ad Board Review Committee can quickly push forward much-needed reform, for that is the only path to judicial fairness at Harvard College.