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Harvard College Disciplinary Actions Reach Six-Year Low

The number of disciplinary actions taken against Harvard undergraduates fell during the pandemic.
The number of disciplinary actions taken against Harvard undergraduates fell during the pandemic. By Thomas Maisonneuve
By Vivi E. Lu and Leah J. Teichholtz, Crimson Staff Writers

Disciplinary actions taken against Harvard undergraduates dropped to a six-year low during the 2020-2021 academic year, according to Administrative Board data updated last summer.

The Ad Board releases annual statistics on disciplinary infractions around “social behavior” — including sexual misconduct and drug and alcohol offenses — and academic sanctions for ​unsatisfactory grades or failure to meet minimum degree requirements. The number of measures by the Ad Board continued a downward trend from 2019-2021.

The Ad Board required just two students to withdraw from the College for disciplinary offenses, down from nine the previous school year. Another 16 students were forced to withdraw for academic reasons, inching down from the 17 who faced the punishment last school year.

The requirement to withdraw — the most serious disciplinary measure short of a dismissal — compels a student to fully disengage from the College and find full-time, paid, non-academic employment for at least six months before petitioning to return.

Thirteen students were put on disciplinary probation during the 2020-2021 school year, a decrease from 17 last year. Another 50 were put on academic probation, down from 55.

The Ad Board pays closer attention to the conduct of students on disciplinary or academic probation. Students who commit another violation while on probation may be required to withdraw from the College.

Only six students were admonished for academic or social reasons, down from 17 the year before. Admonition is a warning that falls short of putting a student on probation, per the Ad Board’s website.

The 2020-2021 academic year was marked by remote learning and a smaller campus population. The College housed freshmen and select upperclassmen last fall in an effort to reduce the number of students living on campus during the pandemic. In the spring, Harvard opened its dorms to juniors, seniors, and students facing challenging learning environments.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana chairs the Ad Board, which is made up of around 30 administrators and faculty. In addition to enforcing academic and community standards, the Ad Board also considers petitions for exceptions to academic policies.

A record number of students opted to take a leave or gap year amid the pandemic. Accordingly, the Ad Board approved 1,850 petitions for leaves of absence during the year, up significantly from 216 the year before. Just one student’s petition was denied.

Harvard cancelled study abroad for the spring 2021 semester in the fall, sending many students’ plans into jeopardy. Per the Ad Board, petitions approved for study abroad dropped last year to 74 from 103 in the 2019-2020 academic year.

The Ad Board approved an unprecedented 678 student petitions for “special” time extensions during the 2020-2021 cycle, suggesting the College maintained a flexible approach to final examinations. The data continued an upward trend from 323 approved petitions in the previous year, up from 22 during the pre-pandemic 2018-2019 year.

Harvard College spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment on the 2020-2021 Ad Board statistics.

The Ad Board data does not include students who were sanctioned or forced to withdraw for academic dishonesty. These cases are adjudicated by the Honor Council, a separate committee formed in 2015.

—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at vivi.lu@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at leah.teichholtz@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.

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