How do you fail out of Harvard?

Among the pointy letter-loving Harvard crowd, failure is the ultimate taboo. And in this case, this is not the same
By Alexandra C. Wood

Among the pointy letter-loving Harvard crowd, failure is the ultimate taboo. And in this case, this is not the same kind of failure as getting a “B” on paper that you worked on for days. This—more serious—academic setback can have dire consequences.

A quick glance at page 60 of the Handbook for Students will show that the College has very clear minimum requirements for each student. Students who do not meet these requirements are reviewed by the Ad Board; decisions can result in no action, or in a requirement to withdraw from the College for students who have unsatisfactory records for two consecutive terms. In the 2003-2004 academic year, 166 students were placed on academic probation, and 32 students were required to withdraw from the College after academic review.

Although these statistics might make even a Hoopes prize winner uneasy, just because a student isn’t performing up to par doesn’t mean that he or she is immediately getting kicked to the curb. Midway through the semester, instructors are asked to alert the Registrar’s Office of any difficulties that a student may be having. According to Freshman Dean Wendy Torrance, the “hope is that students will meet with course instructors, advisers, and with us, to discuss what may be contributing to their poor performance.” Similar policies are outlined for upperclassmen: after receiving a mid-term report of an unsatisfactory or failing mark, Lowell House Senior Tutor Jay Ellison says that he “[tries] to meet with the student to check in with them and make sure that the student is aware of the problem, that the student is aware of the resources the College has to help with various issues or that there is not something else causing difficulties (like roommate problems, personal issues, illness, etc.).” Even though policies concerning academic standards are strict, there are a lot of safety nets.

The Bureau of Study Counsel also offers one-on-one tutoring with undergraduates, a service which, according to Assistant Director Sarah L. Bingham ‘83-’88, “allows a sense of a two-person study group,” and “takes away a lot of the stigma” associated with getting help. During the 2002-2003 academic year, there were 1,055 requests for tutoring in 201 different courses, which added up to 5,709 hours of peer tutoring in total. The Writing Center and the Math Help center in Loker Commons are also available if you need to polish a paper or can’t make head or tail of your problem set.

So when that paper in your advanced Sumerian seminar is getting the best of you, just know that Mama Harvard is here to help.