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Students Protest Ad Board

By Mercer R. Cook

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.


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.


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.

Their blockmate, Michael L. Goldenberg ’88, wrote a letter to The Crimson protesting the outcome of the case.

“The incident occurred amidst an atmosphere of joking and playfulness. Intentions on all sides were purely benign. The fire was an accident. And although it was potentially very dangerous, nobody was hurt and there was no substantial property damage,” he wrote. Goldenberg also spoke strongly against the lack of student representation on the Board.

“A student writes a statement of his involvement to be read at the hearing, and from there, can only cross his fingers and pray,” he wrote. “He cannot even appear at the hearing in order to ensure that his case is properly argued and that all of the facts are understood.”

Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67, who served as a representative for the two students to the Ad Board, declined to comment on the incident.


In addition to the perceived injustice of the disciplinary measures, the Ad Board was criticized for being secretive and out of touch with the student body.

“I thought [the incident] brought the whole system of disciplinary action at Harvard under the spotlight as an archaic process,” says Rogers. “Back then, they were just completely out of touch with reality.”

Rogers cites a later incident in which he was questioned by a member of the Ad Board about a roommate’s activities.

“One of the questions I was asked was, ‘How many people were at the party?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know,’ and the guy said, ‘Well, how many invitations did you send out?’” Rogers recalls. “I wanted to ask him, ‘Do you even know how college works?’”

Julie L. Belcove ’89, a former Crimson editor who reported on the computer prank in 1986, characterizes the Ad Board at the time as “very draconian.”

“Any time something is behind closed doors, it’s suspicious,” she adds.

John “Jay” L. Ellison, the current secretary of the Ad Board, says that the Board has undergone reforms since 1986 that have addressed some of the previous criticisms. For example, students are now able to choose a faculty member other than their resident dean as an advisor and representative, eliminating the dual role that the resident dean used to play as both a student advocate and a Board member.

“Having more openness about our process and sitting down with every student does help it be more transparent,” he says, adding that the Ad Board goes under review every couple of years.

“I’m glad to see that the Ad Board is being revamped,” says Lari. “But [I] wonder if the changes are going as far as they should.”

—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at

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Student LifeAd BoardCommencement 2011Class of 1986