For Ad Board, Burdened Proof?

Part III of a four-part series analyzing how successful the 2009-2010 reforms have been in making the Administrative Board’s disciplinary process more educational, transparent, and empowering for accused students. Part IPart II, and Part IV were published Oct. 23, 24, and 26.

Despite its best intentions, Harvard’s Administrative Board has long had an image problem.

“The deans and the members of the Board take very seriously confidentiality and privacy, so I think people think there’s this Star Chamber-esque ethos that pervades the Board,” said former Ad Board member Paulette G. Curtis ’92, alluding to the notoriously corrupt and secretive Renaissance-era English court.

In fact, Curtis said, “students might be surprised by how thoughtful the discussions are and how long they actually are.” When she served on the Board during her 2002-2008 tenure as resident dean of Dunster House, Board members would sometimes spend up to an hour and a half talking about a single case.

To combat the widespread negative perception that Curtis described, the committee charged with reforming the College’s disciplinary body in 2009 said that the Ad Board needed formal terminology, like that seen in criminal and civil court, to explain to the public the level of proof it needed to find a student responsible for a disciplinary violation. The committee came up with the words “sufficiently persuaded.”

At the same time, it advocated for moving student testimony from a hearing before the whole Board to a small subcommittee. That reform, some say, has made it difficult for deliberators to truly hear enough evidence to ever be “sufficiently persuaded.”

This fall, as students implicated in the current Government 1310 scandal try to clear their names, critics say the closed deliberations in the Forum Room on the third floor of Lamont Library on Tuesday afternoons may not really offer due process.

SETTING THE STANDARD

Two years after the implementation of the formal standard of evidence, Jeff Neal, a spokesperson for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, deems the reform a success. The new standard of evidence “has made the process more clear to students,” he wrote in an emailed statement.

All 30 current members of the Ad Board declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment for this series.

Despite Neal’s assertion that the reform has achieved its goals, some who have been connected to Ad Board hearings say they still feel left in the dark.

Biology professor Richard M. Losick, who has advised multiple students facing the Ad Board, said that he is dissatisfied with the term “sufficiently persuaded.” “It could mean anything,” he said.

Matthew L. Sundquist ’09, a former Undergraduate Council president who served on the reform committee, said the group believed the wording it came up with was “demonstrative and indicative of the care and consideration that we thought would go into decisions.”

But Michael R. Schneider, a lawyer who has consulted with students involved in Ad Board cases, pointed out that Harvard’s standard of proof has no legal significance. He said that he thought the Board should use more widely recognized terms—like “beyond a reasonable doubt” or “clear and convincing evidence”—so that students could better understand how they are being judged.

Neal, who declined to speak by phone or in person about the Ad Board, wrote that the Board does not use typical legal language because it “is not a judicial board and therefore does not use judicial procedures.”

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