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In Six-Year High, 27 Undergraduates Forced to Withdraw from Harvard in 2020-2021 Due to Honor Code Violations

The Office of Academic Integrity and Student Conduct, which oversees the Honor Council, is located in University Hall.
The Office of Academic Integrity and Student Conduct, which oversees the Honor Council, is located in University Hall. By Zing Gee
By Vivi E. Lu and Leah J. Teichholtz, Crimson Staff Writers

In a six-year high, 27 students were forced to withdraw from Harvard College during the 2020-2021 academic year due to academic dishonesty, according to a report released this month.

The Honor Council heard a total of 138 academic integrity cases during the school year. The 2020-2021 school year marked the highest number of cases and withdrawals since the Honor Council came into effect in 2015.

Harvard moved classes online during the 2020-2021 school year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and exams for both semesters were administered online. Roughly 5,231 undergraduates enrolled in fall 2020 while 20 percent of admitted students opted to defer enrollment.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana chairs the Honor Council, a group of students, faculty, and administrators who adjudicate cases of academic dishonesty.

Ninety-nine of the 138 reviewed cases resulted in a finding of responsibility, meaning that an academic dishonesty violation did occur. According to the report, students who are forced to withdraw must be employed in a full-time, paid, non-academic job for at least six months before they can petition for readmission to Harvard. The length of withdrawal is usually between two to four terms.

An additional 56 students were put on probation, a notice from the College that future violations may lead to more serious consequences. Another 10 students were admonished, a warning that falls short of probation. The Honor Council referred six students for a local sanction, meaning the faculty member leading the course decides the appropriate disciplinary action — for example, a grade penalty or mandatory tutoring.

College spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo declined to comment on possible causes for the spike in academic dishonesty violations.

“Harvard College is committed to the transparent reporting of data and ensuring a wide range of information is available to the community,” Palumbo wrote in an emailed statement. “We do not have a comment on changes in data from year to year.”

The Honor Council reviewed 88 cases involving freshmen, marking the fifth consecutive year in which they were “significantly overrepresented” in cases, according to the report.

More than 120 cases involved courses in the Sciences division and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Infractions referred by Humanities and Social Sciences courses comprised less than 15 percent of all cases.

Plagiarism and exam cheating were the most cited concerns in Honor Council cases. Inappropriate collaboration dropped from 27.6 percent of cases in the 2019-2020 academic year to 12 percent in the 2020-2021 academic year.

Even as academic dishonesty cases spiked in the 2020-2021 year, Administrative Board disciplinary actions against undergraduates reached a six-year low. During the 2020-2021 year, the Ad Board required two students to withdraw for disciplinary offenses, while 16 were forced to withdraw due to academic reasons not related to dishonesty.

The last year that the College saw a similar number of academic misconduct cases was in 2016-2017, when more than 60 enrollees in Computer Science 50: “Introduction to Computer Science I” — roughly 10 percent of the class — were referred to the Honor Council for alleged academic dishonesty.

During the 2016-2017 academic year, the Honor Council heard 128 academic dishonesty cases in total and 24 students were required to withdraw from the College.

—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @vivielu_.

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

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