Administrative Board Disciplinary Cases Increase By 150%

The number of disciplinary cases reported to the Administrative Board last year was approximately two-and-a-half times higher than the year before, an increase that the Secretary of the Ad Board attributes to a year-old reform which has encouraged professors and students to turn in more students for academic dishonesty.

In the 2010-11 school year, the Ad Board had 272 disciplinary cases, according to John “Jay” L. Ellison, the secretary of the College’s primary disciplinary body.

In the previous two years, the case load was approximately 150 in 2008-09 and 110 the year after, Ellison said.

For the first time last year, a recent set of reforms took effect.

The reforms, approved by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in May 2010, broadened the penalties which the Board can choose when evaluating academic dishonesty cases.

From 2004 to 2009, before the reforms went into effect, more than a third of students who were reported for plagiarism and similar offenses were required by the board to take time off from Harvard. Another quarter were placed on probation—a time of strict monitoring for further misbehavior—while the rest had their cases dismissed with no punishment or an admonishment.

Members of the Committee to Review the Ad Board, a group of three professors and one student, said in their 2009 report that the harsh punishment of required withdrawal most commonly meted out to offenders led professors to be wary of reporting academic dishonesty cases at all.

History of Science Professor Anne Harrington, who teaches the General Education course “Madness and Medicine,” said that under the old rules, “The assumption that there’s only one way to deal with cases was seen as too rigid.”

In an attempt to remedy that sort of concern, the board now has the option under the 2010 reform to choose two less serious penalties—a failing grade in the course in which the dishonesty occurred, or “local sanctions,” a range of responses taken by the course professor in consultation with the board.

Ellison said that it is this last category of disciplinary response that has been most effectively utilized since the reforms took effect.

“Cases are going back to the faculty for in-class response,” Ellison said. “They can decide if they want to fail the paper, make them re-write it, sit down with someone in the writing center.”

He said that after the new rules were determined, he communicated them to faculty members through a variety of meetings and to students through their teaching fellows, House tutors, and certain undergraduate organizations. He attributed last year’s notable increase in disciplinary cases in large part to these outreach efforts, which have prompted professors as well as students to report incidents.

“We’re hearing from students reporting on their peers more too,” Ellison said. “[Students understand that] when a student comes to the Ad Board, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their career is over.”

Other reforms also prompted by the committee report include small subcommittees in which students meet with two or three members rather than the entire board of about 40 members, as well as new authority for the Faculty Council, a 19-member group, to expel a student without input from the rest of the Faculty.

A sophomore who was summoned by the Ad Board on an academic dishonesty complaint last year said he believes that under the new subcommittee process, “you have much more opportunity and prerogative to defend yourself.”

—Stephanie B. Garlock and Hana N. Rouse contributed to the reporting of this article.

—Staff writer Julie M. Zauzmer can be reached at jzauzmer@college.harvard.edu.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: September 29, 2011

An earlier version of this story incorrectly calculated the increase in the number of the Administrative Board's disciplinary cases. The total number of 2010-11 disciplinary cases was two-and-a-half times higher than the year before not one-and-a-half-times higher.

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