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Harvard Reverses Decision to Suspend 5 Pro-Palestine Protesters Following Faculty Council Appeal

The decision to grant the degrees marks a dramatic reversal from the University's initial decision to prevent the seniors from graduating at Commencement.
The decision to grant the degrees marks a dramatic reversal from the University's initial decision to prevent the seniors from graduating at Commencement. By Julian J. Giordano
By Michelle N. Amponsah, Joyce E. Kim, and Tilly R. Robinson, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard College Administrative Board reversed its decision to suspend five students for participating in the pro-Palestine encampment earlier this year after the Faculty Council criticized its handling of the cases.

The College informed students on Tuesday of their updated disciplinary charges, which saw the suspensions downgraded to probations of varying lengths, according to a person familiar with the decisions who was granted anonymity to discuss disciplinary matters.

The most severe probation charge will last for just one semester, a remarkable change from the initial punishments which required at least one student to withdraw from the College for three semesters. Some students who were initially placed on probation in late May also had the length of their probations reduced.

The students faced disciplinary action days before Harvard’s graduation ceremony in late May after College administrators deemed they were active participants in the 20-day pro-Palestine encampment staged in Harvard Yard during the end of the spring semester.

The decision to drop the suspensions and ease charges against other disciplined students represents a dramatic reversal less than two months after the the Ad Board — an administrative body responsible for the application and enforcement of Harvard College policies — prevented 13 seniors from receiving their degrees at Commencement.

Harvard administrators faced intense backlash from students and faculty members for pursuing disciplinary action against the undergraduates, with several prominent professors slamming the charges as overly harsh and unprecedented. More than 1,000 people also staged a walkout during Harvard’s graduation ceremony over the decision to deny diplomas to the 13 seniors.

The tensions over the disciplinary charges revealed a rift between the Ad Board and a large group of Harvard faculty members who sought to reinstate the sanctioned seniors into the list of degrees for conferral. The FAS rebellion forced the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — to choose between siding with its own faculty or the disciplinary board.

It’s not the first time Harvard has flip-flopped in its attempts to take disciplinary and administrative actions against pro-Palestine protesters. The College initially placed 20 members of the encampment on involuntary leaves of absence before reinstating them just days later, after the occupation ended.

By reversing the charges against the student activists, Harvard may have further emboldened pro-Palestine student groups ahead of the return to campus in September.

“After sustained student and faculty organizing, Harvard has caved in, showing that student intifada will always prevail,” organizers wrote in a joint Instagram post from the Palestine Solidarity Committee, Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine, and the African and African American Resistance Organization.

All College students who were sanctioned for their involvement with the encampment submitted appeals and requests for reconsideration by early June, according to a HOOP organizer.

Students have two routes to contest Ad Board decisions: filing appeals, which are heard by both the Ad Board and the Faculty Council, or reconsideration requests, which are considered only by the former.

The Ad Board appears to have initially dismissed some students’ appeals — but returned to the cases only after the Faculty Council let others move forward.

In at least one student’s case, the Ad Board initially did not approve the student’s request for reconsideration, according to a letter sent to the student. But after the Faculty Council urged the body to revisit similar cases for students who had submitted appeals, the Ad Board granted the student’s reconsideration request and reduced the original penalty.

“The Faculty Council provided additional guidance to the Administrative Board to consider regarding the imposition of sanctions in cases involving violations similar to yours,” the letter reads.

—Staff writers Cam E. Kettles and Neil H. Shah contributed reporting.

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at michelle.amponsah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @mnamponsah.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at joyce.kim@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X at @joycekim324.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at tilly.robinson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @tillyrobin.

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