Taking Reform Off The Shelf

Harvard College’s Administrative Board, often seen as a monolithic, stolid body, may see revisions to its policies and proceedings in the near future.

Procedures regarding representation in Ad Board cases, the size of hearings, and the threshold for punishment, are often decried by students as either opaque or overly harsh. But Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds indicated that policy in these areas will be reworked in her presentation at this year’s final meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Other issues, such as the question of whether students will play a role in the disciplinary process, are still up in the air.

The changes come after a year-long review process of the disciplinary body by the Ad Board Review Committee. Former Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 first proposed that the College review the procedures of the Ad Board in Spring 2007, and Interim Dean of the College David R. Pilbeam convened a small review committee in November 2007. The group presented its findings to Hammonds on March 6, many of which will be taken into account over the next year, Hammonds has indicated.

And while many advocates for reform have applauded the proposed changes, without an undergraduate voice on the Ad Board, some feel that the student body will still be left in the dark.

DUTIES OF THE RESIDENT DEANS

One of the most significant changes to the Ad Board process will be a shift in the role of House resident deans on the board.

Currently, resident deans present students with their cases, often serving as representatives in hearings or advisors, yet they can speak against those same students in hearings in which the students are not present.

Next year, the secretary of the Ad Board, currently Associate Dean of the College Jay Ellison, will present students with their cases, according to Hammonds.

Students will also be allowed to select anyone in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences as their advisor for Ad Board proceedings, according to former Undergraduate Council President Matthew L. Sundquist ’09. Sundquist was the only student member of the Administrative Board Review Committee.

The new process will put less pressure on students to pick their resident deans as their advisors, committee members say, eliminating the deans’ “dual role” as advisor and the individual who takes their case to the Board.

The current system creates a “conflict between the role of advocacy and prosecution,” said Max H.Y. Wong ’10, who has been before the Ad Board. “People don’t have anywhere to go for impartial advice.”

Wong mounted a failed UC campaign alongside Charles T. James ’09-’10 that had Ad Board reform as a central tenet.

Richard M. Losick, a biology professor who has been a vocal advocate of Ad Board reform and has served as an advisor to students who have gone in front of the board, agreed that resident deans often serve in a conflicted role.

“The resident dean, who is supposed to be neutral, is supposed to be defense and prosecutor,” he said.

The representative a student selects will also be able to have some influence on proceedings in front of the board.

“Right now if you get Ad Boarded and you bring a non-member of the board, they sit behind you and can’t speak or participate,” Sundquist said.

With the committee’s changes in place, advisors will be able to speak on behalf of students or ask for a pause in the proceedings to allow for a break from what Wong described as sometimes emotionally traumatic hearings.

Advisors will also be allowed to see evidence in the case, Hammonds said.

SMALLER HEARINGS

Efforts are also being made to reduce the stress Ad Board meetings put on students.

Currently, students waiting to go in front of the Ad Board are asked to sit in Lamont Library Café—a popular gathering place for students—until they are retrieved.

Students then testify to the entire Ad Board committee, which is comprised of an average of 25 faculty and administrators.

The review committee’s proposals suggest students meet with a subcommittee of six members—three faculty and three administrators—that would then report to the board as a whole. And they will not have to wait in Lamont Café anymore. The committee recommends that students have a private alcove in which they can wait with their advisor, Sundquist said.

The advisory committee’s recommendations also suggest that less serious cases not be sent to the Ad Board. Instead, House administrators should handle smaller cases, the committee encouraged, doling out official “House warnings” as punishments.

According to Losick, a former Ad Board member, going before the board can be a punishment in itself in cases, when students are only accused of minor transgressions and are forced to cope with the sometimes stressful policies of the Board.

“People have been threatened with the Ad Board for propping a door open in their room,” Sundquist said. “That’s a local issue that can easily be dealt with at a house level.”

BURDEN OF ‘PERSUASION’

One key reform is a new standard for guilt before the Ad Board.

Right now, no formal threshold exists by which the board should decide whether or not a student should be punished.

Next year, the board will have to be “sufficiently persuaded” of guilt in order to exact penalties, Sundquist said.

Such a benchmark was much sought after by those unhappy with current Ad Board policy.

“It was my impression,” Losick said about the current standard, “that in practice it was often ‘more likely than not.’”

According to the Ad Board’s guide for students, in 2007-2008, about half of disciplinary cases put the students who went before the board on probation or required them to withdraw for some period of time, typically one to two years.

FACULTY LEGISLATION

Review committee members will also be working with deans this summer to draft legislation for the faculty to amend student handbook policies on the Ad Board.

Some major changes that will require a vote of the full Faculty include increasing the range of punishments available to the Ad Board in cases of academic dishonesty, re-examining Harvard’s dismissal policy, and clarifying the definition of inappropriate collaboration in the handbook, Sundquist said.

A STUDENT VOICE?

The next step, many undergraduate proponents argue, is student participation in Ad Board proceedings, but there is little guarantee that this round of reforms will address the issue.

Andrea R. Flores ’10, the current UC president, said she believes that having students on committee is “necessary.”

“All of [the suggested changes] are important and will be necessary and helpful,” Flores said. “They should not be in any way diminished, but I think everyone would agree that the biggest part of the question hasn’t been answered.”

But student involvement is still up for consideration.

One option currently being floated is giving students a choice between two disciplinary committees—one with students and one without, according to Donald Pfister, a professor of systemic botany and a member of the Ad Board Review Committee.

“Undoubtably” the support for the provision “will be mixed,” said Pfister, who previously served on the Ad Board.

Sundquist said the question deserves examination, but that he is unsure whether legislation to go before the Faculty on the issue would be produced over the summer.

—Staff writer Eric P. Newcomer can be reached at newcomer@fas.harvard.edu.