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Harvard College Sees Drop in Honor Council Cases in 2021-22 Following Six-Year High

Harvard's Office of Academic Integrity and Student Conduct is located in University Hall.
Harvard's Office of Academic Integrity and Student Conduct is located in University Hall. By Sarah G. Erickson
By J. Sellers Hill and Nia L. Orakwue, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard College Honor Council reviewed 100 academic dishonesty cases in the 2021-22 school year, 12 of which resulted in withdrawals, according to a report released this semester.

The number reflects a marked drop from the 2020-21 academic year, during which the Council heard 138 cases and forced 27 students to withdraw, the highest number of cases and withdrawals since the Honor Council came into effect in 2015.

Students who are forced to withdraw are typically required to work in a full-time, paid, non-academic job for more than six months before petitioning to return to the College. This withdrawal normally lasts for one to two academic years.

The Honor Council is chaired by Dean of the College Dean Rakesh Khurana and consists of 24 voting members, including undergraduate students, teaching fellows, faculty members, and administrators. The body is responsible for adjudicating cases of suspected academic dishonesty across the College.

Of the 100 cases, 42 concerned instances of plagiarism, 35 were exam cheating, and 15 were inappropriate collaboration. Three cases involved “lying to a University officer,” and one case involved “misuse of sources.”

In addition to the 12 forced withdrawals, 34 students were placed on probation, a notice that further academic misconduct will lead to more serious repercussions. Twenty students were admonished, a result similar to probation but that does not change a student’s “in good standing” status.

Four students received local sanctions, where the course instructor determines the student’s punishment, which can range from a grade penalty to mandatory tutoring.

In 30 cases, it was found that either no violation occurred or the allegation could not be substantiated.

For the sixth consecutive year, the majority of cases — 63 percent — involved freshmen, who “continue to be significantly overrepresented” in hearings, according to the report.

Previous Honor Council reports have identified this pattern and cited it as a reason the body commits additional resources toward outreach and trainings for freshmen.

“Early in their academic careers, students are more likely to be in large courses, trying out difficult or new material while at the same time they are adjusting to college and Yard and House life,” the Honor Council’s 2019-20 report read.

Of the remaining cases in the 2021-22 year, 19 percent involved sophomores, 11 percent juniors, and 6 percent seniors. The majority of cases were referred to the Council by courses in the Sciences Division and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The report does not speculate on potential reasons for the overrepresentation of freshmen and students enrolled in STEM classes. Harvard College spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo declined to comment on the report beyond reiterating the College’s commitment to transparency.

The 2019-20 report wrote that the overrepresentation of STEM cases “is not an exception from other universities,” noting a higher prevalence of graded assignments and the use of software to detect plagiarism in computer programs.

“Both the cause and the effect of this disparity should continue to be the focus of discussion among the faculty, students, and community at large,” the report continued.

—Staff writer J. Sellers Hill can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SellersHill.

—Staff writer Nia L. Orakwue can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @nia_orakwue.

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