College Stalls Plans for Ad Board Database Meant To Increase Transparency

When administrators first promised in 2010 to distill and publish a database with more detailed information about case decisions made by the College’s primary disciplinary board, they said they wanted to increase transparency of a body that students often perceive as opaque.

Quickly, however, the fate of the project became unclear, as the Administrative Board has repeatedly pushed the database’s target release date back, amid concerns that the summaries could compromise the privacy of individual students; administrators also cited the backlog of work created by Harvard’s largest cheating scandal in recent memory as a reason for its continued delay.

Now, more than four years after it was promised to be released, administrators have indicated that the project has stalled indefinitely. There are no immediate plans to release the database, according to Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana.

“At present we are not planning any changes,” Khurana, who chairs the Ad Board, said of the information the Ad Board currently releases.

For years, the College has published statistics summarizing the Ad Board’s caseload in the aggregate, which includes petitions to withdraw from a course and disciplinary cases involving alleged academic integrity or “social behavior” policy violations. While those statistics tally what sanctions the Board hands down each academic year in broad categories, they do not offer qualitative details about individual cases.

As described by former Ad Board Secretary John “Jay” L. Ellison in 2010, the planned database, in contrast, was slated to include brief summaries of some cases. Megan R. Mitrovich, then a management fellow hired to organize the data, said at the time that the goal was to create a “pretty comprehensive database” that would detail the different sanctions and outcomes so that students could determine whether they would have grounds to appeal an Ad Board decision.

Since 2010, both the Ad Board and its staff have undergone significant changes. In 2014, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences approved the College’s first-ever honor code, which will roll out in the fall with the formation of a student-faculty body, separate from the Ad Board, to hear cheating cases. And beginning in July, the College will house both the Ad Board and the new Honor Council under a single office.

The database project’s progress has stalled during this transition period, with no publicly stated timeframe for its potential release, and its future uncertain.

“I don't know whether it’s going to be released,” Brett Flehinger, the Ad Board’s current secretary, said in February. “I think right now we’re committed to making sure that the stats are updated.”

Updates on the Honor Council
Brett Flehinger, the Ad Board's current secretary, will be replaced by Lauren E. Brandt next fall.

Khurana said it is challenging to manage the competing interests of transparency and student privacy.

“We are trying to balance the needs of basically having a community understand how the Honor Council and the Administrative Board works, while respecting the privacy of individual students,” Khurana said.

Lauren E. Brandt, who will serve as Ad Board secretary next fall, said her office will broadly reevaluate how to make the body more transparent  in conjunction with Khurana and Flehinger, who will be the Honor Council’s secretary next fall.

—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at noah.delwiche@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.

—Staff writer Ivan B. K. Levingston can be reached at Ivan.Levingston@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @IvanLevingston.

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