After Defining 'Probation,' Harvard Should Clarify Expectations

While the College’s guidelines for student group punishment constitute progress, more clarity is needed.

HCFA Building
HCFA, currently on probation, occupies offices in a building on Massachusetts Avenue near Harvard Yard.

After controversially placing student religious group Harvard College Faith and Action on probation, the College has at last outlined concrete procedure regarding future disciplinary action toward student groups. Over the summer, the Office of Student Life developed a four-step process through which administrators would address violations of school rules by student groups. This process consists of a report and subsequent review, a decision on the part of the College, the possibility of an appeal, and possible punishments student groups may receive. These punishments range from a “Warning,” in which the group is alerted of its rule violation, to a permanent “Revocation” of the group’s status as a recognized Harvard organization.

We have previously criticized of the vague details surrounding HCFA’s year-long probation. HCFA, despite being on probation, did not experience any immediate losses of student group privileges, such as booking spaces on campus or being eligible for Undergraduate Council funding. Although a clearly structured policy would have been much appreciated prior to this incident, we commend Harvard for creating a procedure to discipline student groups. Now that the College has clarified what constitutes various disciplinary measures, student groups presumably will be aware of the consequences they may face for violating community rules, and will thus have an incentive to follow College’s guidelines.

However, the College’s new policies leave something to be desired. While the College is making efforts to hold groups to community norms, it has yet to satisfactorily articulate and disseminate what those norms are. The norms detailed in the Student Handbook are mostly abstract principles, with the exception of the clause on discrimination. Harvard should further articulate the standards to which it holds student organizations. Were the College to more clearly spell out what it expects from its student groups, the benefits would extend far beyond fairer punishments. Indeed, giving student organizations a clear understanding of Harvard’s community values would improve the character of student life in a non-punitive manner.

Additionally, the College owes students a more clear dissemination of its new punishment system. While the guidelines were announced at meetings for student group leaders at the beginning of the semester and explained in the 2018-2019 Recognized Student Organization Resource and Policy Guide, the majority of students at the College did have an opportunity to attend the former and do not have easy access to the latter. Only by making sure all students are apprised of these punishments, and of the community norms to which they are held, can the College make a maximally effective positive impact on student life with these policies.


This staff editorial is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.