The Administrative Board—the primary disciplinary body of Harvard College—came under fire in 1986 after the Board handed down punishments in two separate cases that were perceived by students as unduly harsh given the nature of the offenses.
Students also criticized the Ad Board and its processes as unjust, out of touch, and secretive—complaints that persist among students 25 years later.
“THIS COMPUTER TEST SUCKS”
In April 1986, eight freshmen hacked into University computer systems during a Quantitative Reasoning Requirement—a mandatory test for freshmen at the time—causing the computers to repeatedly print the phrase, “This computer test sucks.”
In response, the Ad Board initially decided to punish all of the pranksters—with the exception of H. Glen Abel ’89, who turned in his conspirators—with a one-year withdrawal from the College.
The disciplinary response to the widely publicized incident drew ire from students, many of whom felt the consequences were excessive.
“I was angry,” says Eddy J. Rogers III ’89, one of the convicted students. “I thought it was a very heavy punishment and inappropriate for what had happened—something that was just a stupid prank.”
Roughly 90 Weld North tenants expressed dissatisfaction with the verdict in a letter to then-Dean of the College and Chair of the Ad Board L. Fred Jewett ’57. Among them was Mihail S. Lari ’89, who says he was surprised and angered that students were unable to represent themselves in the process.
“The Ad Board seemed to be a remnant from the past, where faculty members had all the power, and students had little say in their own defense or seeing any change in the process that resulted in harsh punishment that sometimes didn’t fit the infraction,” Lari says.
While the Ad Board overturned its original decision a week later—after the seven convicted freshmen appeared in person to appeal their verdicts—the students were all placed on disciplinary probation, and in some cases restricted from participating in extracurricular activities.
Rogers and Gregory P. Gicewicz ’89—both football players—were forced to withdraw from the team, and Marcus Q. Mitchell ’89 was ordered by the Ad Board to resign from the Undergraduate Council after he was initially elected in the semester following the prank.
“We deserved some punishment, but not that,” Rogers says of the second punishment, adding that he feels the reduced ruling was still too harsh for the nature of the offense.
FIRE IN MCKINLOCK
This was not the first time in 1986 in which the Ad Board was criticized for its rulings. In a less-publicized case in February, two Leverett students accidentally started a small fire in McKinlock Hall’s B-entryway as a result of a series of escalating pranks with their friends.
The Ad Board asked the two students to withdraw for a year, while three other students participating in the pranks were put on disciplinary probation.