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College Apologizes for Sending Involuntary Leave Notice to Harvard Crimson Reporter

A freshman reporter for The Harvard Crimson was erroneously sent an involuntary leave of absence notice after their ID was checked by administrators while covering the pro-Palestine encampment in Harvard Yard.
A freshman reporter for The Harvard Crimson was erroneously sent an involuntary leave of absence notice after their ID was checked by administrators while covering the pro-Palestine encampment in Harvard Yard. By Julian J. Giordano
By Emma H. Haidar and Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard College erroneously sent an involuntary leave of absence notice intended for members of the pro-Palestine encampment to a news reporter for The Harvard Crimson, raising questions about the University’s process for determining which students participated in the protest.

The freshman reporter received a letter from Dean of Students Thomas Dunne early Friday morning that stated they had 24 hours to depart campus. The College retracted the letter within an hour after The Crimson’s leadership alerted University officials that it had taken action against a student journalist who never participated in the protest.

Despite the fast retraction, the College did not offer an explanation for how it mistakenly identified a reporter, who had only infrequently covered the encampment, as a member of the protest’s core group. The reporter was one of just 21 students who initially received an involuntary leave of absence notice.

Dunne expressed regret for the error in his letter retracting the involuntary leave notice.

“I am writing to inform you that the status and letter are retracted, and you are not being placed on leave,” Dunne wrote. “I apologize for any inconvenience or stress that this may have caused.”

The mistake will likely place additional pressure on the University to disclose its methods for determining who to place on involuntary leave. The first wave of involuntary leave notices comes four days after interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 first warned of the measure for students who “participate in or perpetuate” the continuation of the encampment.

The original disciplinary letter, which was sent at 9:31 a.m., stated that the “decision was not made lightly but was precipitated by serious concerns about your participation in an unauthorized encampment occupation in Harvard Yard, on May 7, 2024.”

The original letter also states that the reporter was “identified as a student who remained in the encampment” following Garber’s Monday email to affiliates, raising concerns that any student who agreed to an ID check near the encampment after that date could be placed on leave even if they had since left or not been a participant in the encampment.

The reporter was assigned to cover the protest during an ID check on Tuesday and remained outside the bounds of the encampment. Harvard Crimson President J. Sellers Hill ’25 wrote in a statement that the reporter was wearing a press badge and identified themself as a Crimson reporter when asked to present their ID.

Hill wrote that “we are shocked and troubled by today’s suspension of a clearly identified student reporter.”

“While the suspension was quickly lifted after The Crimson contacted the University, it was nonetheless an alarming violation of due process and student press freedom,” he added.

A College spokesperson wrote in a statement that the reporter “received an involuntary leave message today as their status as a Harvard Crimson reporter was not communicated to the College.”

The spokesperson wrote that the miscommunication occurred between administrators and that the reporter had identified themself at the time.

“We immediately rectified the situation when notified and apologized to the student,” he added.

The wave of leave of absence notices comes hours after members of the pro-Palestine encampment rejected Garber’s offer to leave the encampment in exchange for avoiding involuntary leave.

While Crimson reporters were identified by their ID cards, the protesters themselves declined to show the administrators identification during the Tuesday ID check. Dean of Student Services Michael Burke later resorted to filming the protesters on his phone, though many concealed their faces with keffiyehs, surgical masks, and sunglasses.

Administrators have not returned to the encampment to conduct ID checks since Tuesday, indicating that students who were placed on leave Friday were identified during that ID check, the only attempt by administrators to identify protesters after Garber’s email first threatened the possibility of involuntary leave.

The 20 students placed on involuntary leave — 11 of whom are undergraduates — have until Saturday at noon to leave campus. They were given the option to “request consideration” of their involuntary leave and the ability to change the status from involuntary to voluntary.

The error by Harvard administrators is not the first time a student journalist has been wrongly targeted for reporting from the scene of campus protests and encampments. Two student journalists were arrested at Dartmouth College while covering a pro-Palestinian rally on campus.

But Harvard’s response to the error stands in contrast to Dartmouth administrators, who initially declined to call for charges against the student journalists to be dropped, although Dartmouth later said it would work with local authorities to “ensure this error is corrected.”

In the initial involuntary leave notices, Dunne did not specify when students would be allowed to return.

“The conditions upon which you may be allowed to return to Harvard College and to its campus will be set forth in greater detail in a subsequent letter,” Dunne wrote.

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at emma.haidar@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at cam.kettles@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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