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Harvard Debuts New System for Disciplining Errant Student Groups

Students make their way through Harvard Yard.
Students make their way through Harvard Yard. By Amy Y. Li
By Caroline S. Engelmayer and Michael E. Xie, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard has debuted a new procedure for punishing student groups that violate school policy.

The new system — detailed in the 2018-2019 Recognized Student Organization Resource and Policy Guide — outlines a four-step process by which administrators will address alleged violations of College rules: “Report,” “Review of Incident,” “Outcome,” and “Appeal.”

The guide also details possible punishments that Harvard can deliver to organizations found in violation of school policy. A “Warning” — the weakest action — means the College will send a formal communication alerting the group to its misstep. Under “Revocation,” the strongest penalty, administrators will revoke recognition for the group, prohibiting it from using Harvard’s name and brand. Organizations disciplined in this manner will have “no opportunity” to re-apply for recognition.

Intermediate to the two most extreme punishments are “Period of Probation” and “Suspension.” Groups put on probation will be “given the opportunity to demonstrate [their] ability to abide” by Harvard’s policies and procedures. At the discretion of the College, probation may also lead to a temporary suspension of party-hosting privileges and other benefits typically afforded to recognized student organizations. The guide does not specify how long probation will last.

Organizations facing suspension are required to “cease all organizational activities” for a window of time determined by the Dean of Students Office.

Associate Dean of Student Engagement Alexander R. Miller announced the plan during a series of mandatory meetings attended by leaders of recognized undergraduate student groups last Wednesday and Thursday. Miller said the new system is meant to update and clarify Harvard’s disciplinary process, which he said had confused some students.

The College’s procedure for punishing campus groups was put to the test last semester.

In February, administrators placed Harvard College Faith and Action — the largest Christian fellowship on campus — on “administrative probation” after The Crimson reported that the group had pressured a female student to step down from a leadership position following her decision to date a woman. In the weeks that followed, students — among them members of the Undergraduate Council — struggled to understand the terms of HCFA’s probation, which had little to no immediate practical effect.

At the meetings last week, Miller stressed that the Dean of Students Office will not apply the new disciplinary process to past policy violations committed by student groups.

In an email Monday, Miller appeared to tie the new system to last semester’s HCFA controversy.

“While this was not specifically in response to HCFA, the concerns raised with HCFA last Spring underscored the need for this and the time-sensitivity of putting this process in place now,” Miller wrote in an emailed statement provided by spokesperson Aaron M. Goldman. “This was an identified gap in our processes, and we developed this over the summer.”

—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.

—Staff writer Michael E. Xie can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MichaelEXie1.

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