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Harvard Faculty Approve Leave of Absence Policy Changes, Bid Bacow Farewell at Last Meeting of Semester

Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences gathered in Sanders Theatre for their final meeting of the semester on Tuesday, where they voted to approve changes to the Harvard College Student Handbook.
Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences gathered in Sanders Theatre for their final meeting of the semester on Tuesday, where they voted to approve changes to the Harvard College Student Handbook. By Mariah Ellen D. Dimalaluan

The Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted to approve an amended Harvard College Student Handbook with an updated leave of absence policy at a Tuesday afternoon meeting in Sanders Theatre — the final meeting of the semester.

By a unanimous voice vote, faculty approved an amended handbook which included expanded criteria for requiring students to take involuntary leaves of absence from the College. The new policy says leaves may be required following a hospitalization or other situations that pose “serious concerns about the student’s health or well-being and reasonably call into question their ability to function as a student in the Harvard College environment.”

A new clause in the handbook allows students to opt to take a voluntary leave of absence for medical reasons rather than be placed on involuntary leave.

The new policy also allows the College to make a student’s enrollment or return to campus conditional on a written agreement, which can include stipulations such as compliance with a treatment plan from a health care professional. It says that failure to comply with the terms of a written agreement is grounds for an involuntary leave of absence.

The new handbook language also amends and clarifies the process for students seeking to appeal an involuntary leave of absence or a denied petition to return to campus after a medical leave of absence.

Students in either position can appeal the decision to a committee chaired by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and “composed of representatives from College and University offices” within five days.

Previously, students could appeal an involuntary leave decision first to the dean or the “Dean’s delegate” directly and then to the Administrative Board, but there was no clear route to appeal denied petitions to return to campus after a medical leave.

Other amendments to the handbook included the reiteration of Harvard’s inaugural University-wide anti-bullying policies announced in March, as well as changes to the undergraduate language requirement and simultaneous enrollment policy approved by faculty at the March FAS meeting.

Faculty also voted unanimously to approve initial course catalogs for the College, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and Harvard Extension School.

During the meeting, both outgoing University President Lawrence S. Bacow and FAS Dean Claudine Gay, who will take over as president in July, spoke warmly about working with Harvard faculty.

“We are not a community of half-measures, and I’m inspired every day by your willingness to hold ourselves to the highest possible standards,” Gay said in remarks to faculty.

She issued a “challenge” for the faculty to critically evaluate long-standing traditions of faculty governance, including assessing if “practices that made sense a generation ago meet our needs today.”

Referencing her March decision to break tradition as University president by not chairing future FAS meetings, Gay said she hoped to see “the faculty in its full breadth and diversity” coming “together to make decisions about its future,” eliciting a “hear, hear” from a member of the audience.

In remarks concluding the meeting, Bacow thanked the faculty for lively and vigorous discussions, even in times of disagreement.

“As we have argued before the Supreme Court, we embrace diversity, because we learn from our differences,” Bacow said, referring to the Students For Fair Admissions lawsuit against Harvard in which the court is widely expected to rule against race-based admissions practices. “These differences must always include diversity of viewpoint.”

The meeting was followed by a reception in the transept of Memorial Hall celebrating the tenures of Gay and Bacow.

During the meeting, Gay also announced that five faculty were named Harvard College Professors — a five-year appointment recognizing excellence in undergraduate teaching with an increase in funding — and that six were elected to the Faculty Council, a steering committee for faculty governance.

The new Harvard College Professors are Psychology professor Fiery A. Cushman ’03, History professor Philip J. Deloria, Molecular and Cellular Biology professor Sean R. Eddy, Earth and Planetary Sciences professor Zhiming Kuang, and Physics professor Mara Prentiss.

The six newly elected Faculty Council members are Statistics professor Joseph K. Blitzstein, East Asian Languages and Civilizations professor Shigehisa Kuriyama ’77, History professor Erez Manela, History of Science professor Hannah Marcus, Romance Languages and Literatures professor Usha Reena Rungoo, and Chemistry and Chemical Biology lecturer Gregory C. “Gregg” Tucci.

Correction: May 5, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the anti-affirmative action group suing Harvard as Students For Free Admissions. In fact, the group’s name is Students For Fair Admissions.

—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @eschisgall.

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FASFAS AdministrationFacultyBacowClaudine Gay

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