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After decades of complaints by students that the College disciplinary process is too secretive, the College administration will examine the possibility of including students on the Administrative Board.
At Tuesday’s Ad Board meeting, Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 discussed potentially adding student representatives to the body and charged a handful of College administrators with looking into the issue.
Currently, only College deans, senior tutors and a fluctuating batch of professors comprise the 22-member board, which handles all undergraduate disciplinary matters and doles out punishments to students.
Harvard is the only Ivy League college lacking student representation at all levels of the judiciary process. Brown, Dartmouth, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale all allow students to serve on their primary judiciary bodies. Cornell and Columbia have faculty or administrators who handle routine disciplinary matters, but students sit on the bodies that oversee more complicated situations and appeals.
Gross wrote in an e-mail that he specifically asked the Ad Board’s executive committee to gather information from other institutions which include students on their disciplinary bodies and to report back to him in a few weeks.
Assistant Dean of the College John T. O’Keefe, who serves as secretary of the Ad Board, said discussion of student membership on the body “comes up every year or two,” but that this is the first time in his three and a half years on the board that the possibility has advanced beyond the discussion stage.
Many students have criticized the Ad Board for being secretive, arbitrary and unrepresentative of undergraduates’ norms.
“Its name has taken on a lot of negative connotations,” Isabelle Burtan ’06 said of the Ad Board, adding that it elicits images of “this nightmarish wood-paneled room where you’re all alone.”
Tuesday’s Ad Board discussion follows a call by Undergraduate Council President Rohit Chopra ’04 for the administration to examine the issue.
At Sunday’s council meeting, Chopra said he would approach Gross and Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby about creating an ad hoc Faculty committee to investigate the possibility of student representation on the Ad Board.
“It seems to me that there hasn’t been a serious consideration of the matter by the Faculty,” Chopra said. “I’m really happy to see that there’s serious investigation.”
Although the issue of student representation on the board will move past informal discussion, the outcome of the committee’s review is far from certain.
“I don’t think it’s the board’s top priority,” O’Keefe said.
“This is all preliminary,” Gross wrote in an e-mail. “Right now, I see persuasive arguments in both directions.”
The sentiment of current board members is split, according to Gross.
“There were people who couldn’t imagine it, and some who had worked at other institutions who were in favor of it,” Gross said. “The views on the executive committee were balanced, so I asked them to look into it.”
O’Keefe said some board members were worried that the proceedings’ confidentiality would be compromised by having students sit on the board, and that the board’s discourse might be stifled.
He said other board members contended that students might offer insight that administrators on the board don’t have.
“It could be useful to have a student in the room to say, ‘Gee, that made sense to me’ or ‘That seemed off-base,’” O’Keefe said.
Other Harvard schools have students serve on their disciplinary bodies.
Three of the seven voting members of Harvard Law School’s disciplinary board are students. Two students also sit on the Student-Faculty Judicial Board for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
For the past eight years, the College administration did not broach the subject of student representation on the board, partly because former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 opposed the measure.
In a November 1996 letter to former Undergraduate Council President Lamelle D. Rawlins ’99 in response to a call for student representation, Lewis disputed the idea that the Ad Board is mysterious, writing that senior tutors and deans of freshmen could provide students with information and noting the existence of the guide to the Ad Board.
He added that any student representatives on the Ad Board would be unlikely to represent all students’ views sufficiently.
Chopra did not agree with Lewis’ viewpoints.
“I don’t think it recognized how valuable student input has been on the disciplinary boards of comparable institutions,” Chopra said of Lewis’ letter.
Gross noted that even if the current Ad Board decides it wants to alter the composition of the disciplinary body, the change would have to be approved by the full Faculty.
—Staff writer Alexander J. Blenkinsopp can be reached at email@example.com.
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