Harvard Corporation Rejects FAS Effort to Let 13 Pro-Palestine Student Protesters Graduate

Penny Pritzker Exits Harvard Corporation FAS Town Hall
Frank S. Zhou


The Harvard Corporation rejected an effort by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to confer degrees on 13 seniors facing disciplinary charges for participating in the pro-Palestine encampment, an unprecedented veto that opens a new front in the internal battles that have convulsed Harvard for the past year.

The Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, deliberated late into the night on Tuesday as it stared down an impossible decision: render Harvard College’s disciplinary processes toothless by approving the FAS-amended list or undercut the authority of the University’s largest faculty by declining to uphold their amendment.

“Today, we have voted to confer 1,539 degrees to Harvard College students in good standing,” the Corporation wrote in a joint statement on Wednesday. “Because the students included as the result of Monday’s amendment are not in good standing, we cannot responsibly vote to award them degrees at this time.”

Faculty members, at the annual FAS degree meeting, plunged Harvard into something of a constitutional crisis as they voted to amend the list of degrees for conferral at Commencement during what is normally a sparsely attended pro forma session.


Instead, 115 faculty members showed up to a meeting in which a decisive majority voted to confer degrees on the 13 seniors. The students were notified of disciplinary charges from the Harvard College Administrative Board just three days earlier.

During the meeting, faculty members claimed that it had the authority to add the students back onto the list because the disciplinary actions from the Ad Board were subject to approval by the FAS — the “ultimate disciplinary body” for the College, according to the University’s governing statutes.

Whether it intended to or not, the Corporation’s statement signaled that it does not believe the FAS has the authority that some of its faculty members think it does.

This now pits many faculty members against the Corporation at a time when many stakeholders across the University have raised serious questions about the Corporation’s stewardship, accusing the board of repeated leadership failures over the past eight months.

Government professor Steven Levitsky warned in an interview on Tuesday that the Corporation could spark a faculty uprising if it does not sign off on the FAS-approved list of degrees for conferral.

“I would expect a faculty rebellion, possibly a faculty rebellion against the entire governance structure, because there’s already a fair amount of mistrust toward the Corporation to begin with,” Levitsky said.

The Corporation cited rules outlined in the Student Handbook which state that students must be in good standing in order to graduate and noted that the FAS vote on Monday only added students to the list of degrees for conferral — and did not actually overturn the disciplinary charges.

“We respect each faculty’s responsibility to determine appropriate discipline for its students,” the Corporation wrote. “Monday’s faculty vote did not, however, revisit these disciplinary rulings, did not purport to engage in the individualized assessment of each case that would ordinarily be required to do so, and, most importantly, did not claim to restore the students to good standing.”

The Corporation also wrote that siding with the FAS motion could create a double standard and disadvantage students who were not in good academic standing for issues unrelated to pro-Palestine protests on campus.

“We also considered the inequity of exempting a particular group of students who are not in good standing from established rules, while other seniors with similar status for matters unrelated to Monday’s faculty amendment would be unable to graduate,” the Corporation wrote.

The current controversy stems from the Harvard College Administrative Board’s decision on Friday to suspend five students and place more than 2o others on probation for their participation in the encampment that ended earlier this month.

The disciplinary charges were met with almost immediate condemnation from a range of students and faculty members across the University, who described the charges as an arbitrary and uncharacteristically harsh crackdown on student activism.

Many critics alleged that the disciplinary charges violated an agreement to end the encampment between interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 and the pro-Palestine student protesters.

Garber wrote in an email to encampment protesters that he would ask schools to reinstate students from involuntary leave and “encourage the administrative boards or other disciplinary bodies within the schools to address cases expeditiously under existing precedent and practice (including taking into account where relevant the voluntary decision to leave the encampment), for all students, including those students eligible thereafter to graduate so that they may do so.”

While the faculty attempted to take matters into their own hands by reinstating students, the Corporation insisted on Wednesday that the Ad Board’s appeal processes must first run their course.

“We fully support the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ stated intention to provide expedited review, at this time, of eligible requests for reconsideration or appeal,” the Corporation wrote. “We will consider conferral of degrees promptly if, following the completion of all FAS processes, a student becomes eligible to receive a degree.”

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

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