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Harvard College Disciplinary Measures Hit Five-Year Low Amid Pandemic

University Hall is located in Harvard Yard.
University Hall is located in Harvard Yard. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Juliet E. Isselbacher, Crimson Staff Writer

The 2019-20 academic year marked a five-year low for overall disciplinary action at Harvard College, according to Administrative Board statistics updated Thursday.

The number of students admonished for conduct violating the College’s social behavior or academic procedure policies dropped from 42 during the 2018-19 cycle to 17 this past year; probations for such violations fell from 30 to 17.

The number of undergraduates required to withdraw for misconduct, meanwhile, declined more modestly, inching downwards from 10 in 2019-20 to nine this past year. The requirement to withdraw — the most serious disciplinary sanction short of the rare dismissal — obliges a student to fully disengage from Harvard and find full-time, paid, non-academic employment for at least six months before petitioning to return.

The Ad Board — chaired by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and composed of around 30 College administrators and faculty — is charged with disciplining students whose conduct violates College policies, approving student petitions, and enforcing academic standards.

The number of undergraduates the Ad Board put on probation or required to withdraw for unsatisfactory academic records also reached a five-year low this past year. In 2019-20, the Ad Board’s academic review landed 54 students on probation and required 17 to withdraw — down from 121 and 40, respectively, in 2018-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic put significant academic stress on students this past spring, forcing a rapid switch to all-remote classes. Students returning to distant time zones, struggling families, or home environments without a quiet place to work faced extra hurdles completing the semester. The College attempted to ease some of this pressure — and promote educational equity — by adopting a universal satisfactory-unsatisfactory grading system for the spring.

The Ad Board statistics on student petitions also suggest the College allowed a flexible approach to final examinations. It approved an unprecedented 323 student petitions for “special” time extensions last year — up from just 22 during the 2018-2019 cycle, per the report.

The Ad Board also approved 103 petitions for study abroad — again, the lowest figure in the past five years. Ultimately, Harvard suspended all study abroad for the fall 2020 semester due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.

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