On this page:

Expectations of Conduct


The section explains the expectations for conduct as a student, how policies are enforced, and how disciplinary action is taken.

GSAS believes in creating an environment where students, faculty, and staff may live and work productively together, making use of the rich resources of the University in the individual and collective pursuit of academic excellence and personal challenge. This environment is founded on the principles noted in the Resolution on Rights and Responsibilities, adopted by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on April 14, 1970, which states: “By accepting membership in the University, an individual joins a community ideally characterized by free expression, free inquiry, intellectual honesty, respect for the dignity of others, and openness to constructive change.” This community must be a tolerant and supportive one, characterized by civility and consideration for others, with high standards and expectations for the quality of interpersonal relationships as well as academic performance.

It is the expectation of GSAS that all students, whether or not they are on campus or are currently enrolled as degree candidates, will: 

  • familiarize themselves with GSAS policies, especially those that can lead to disciplinary action, such as academic dishonesty, sexual and racial harassment, the use of physical violence, or lying to an officer of the University
  • behave in a mature and responsible manner
  • attend to their personal wellbeing, including by making responsible decisions regarding physical and mental health concerns.

Because students are expected to show good judgment and use common sense at all times, not all kinds of misconduct or behavioral standards are codified here.

Students are expected to comply with all disciplinary rules from matriculation until the conferral of the degree. A degree will not be granted to a student who is not in good standing or against whom a disciplinary charge is pending.

Enforcement of Policies

Policies are overseen by the GSAS deans and enforced by the Administrative Board, who consider all matters of discipline, including:

  • failure to attend academic exercises regularly
  • failure to maintain a satisfactory academic record or make satisfactory progress toward the degree
  • neglect of academic work or requirements
  • violation of the rules of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
  • lying to an officer of the University
  • cheating, plagiarism, or other forms of academic dishonesty
  • theft of or damage to property of the University or others
  • possession of stolen goods
  • physical violence (including assault and sexual assault), harassment, or disorderly conduct 
  • violation of law (including unlawful use or possession of controlled substances, firearms, or hazardous materials)
  • other conduct that departs from generally accepted standards of integrity and behavior.

Disciplinary cases are ordinarily considered by the Administrative Board as quickly as is reasonably possible, given the Board’s schedule and the need to investigate matters carefully. The Administrative Board does not meet during the summer months.

Procedures for Disciplinary Cases

This section lists the steps when disciplinary action is taken.

Please note that cases involving Title IX and other sexual misconduct complaints will follow the Interim FAS Policies and Procedures for Addressing Title IX Sexual And Gender-Based Harassment and Other Sexual Misconduct.

1. GSAS Learns of the Case

A faculty member, administrator, or other Harvard official, or student reports to the dean of students an incident that appears to violate Harvard rules or standards of conduct. Any student who learns that a report has been made against them should contact the dean of students immediately to begin the process in an open and cooperative way.

2. The Student Receives a “Charge” Letter

The dean of students will communicate with the student, explaining that they have been accused of violating Harvard rules or standards of conduct and asking that they prepare a statement in response. Any written material submitted by the person reporting the charges to the dean of students will be shared with the student.

3. The Student and the Dean of Students Consult

A crucial early step is the conversation between the student and the dean of students. During this conversation, the dean of students will acknowledge that the alleged infraction could result in disciplinary action and will encourage the student to be open and honest in their discussions. This should not be interpreted as a sign that the dean of students distrusts or is pre-judging the student; it is part of their job to serve a dual role as fact finder and as an advisor to the student while emphasizing that GSAS assumes students are honest about their actions and are willing to take responsibility for them.

Sometimes, a report is made that, upon investigation, turns out to be incorrect. If this is the case, it will come out during the conversation with the dean of students and the matter will most likely end there. On occasion, though, if there is a police report or a written complaint, the dean of students and the student will follow the steps below, so that the Administrative Board can formally exonerate the student—or “scratch” the case—so there will be no lingering doubt about the matter attached to the student’s record.

4. The Student Decides Whether to Ask for Referral to the Student-Faculty Judicial Board

During the initial consultation, the dean of students will describe the Student-Faculty Judicial Board so that the student can decide whether to have the case referred to the Student-Faculty Judicial Board.

5. The Student Writes a Statement

It is vital that the student tells the story of the disciplinary case in their own words and reflect carefully on their actions. Conversations with the dean of students will help prepare the student to write the statement. In general, the student should plan to do three things:

A. Tell the story. The student should write an account of the facts of what happened, being sure to distinguish between what they know themselves and what they have learned from other sources (friends, others present at the time, police reports, etc.). The student should explain what they were thinking at the time.

B. Reflect on it. The student should reflect on what happened now that they have had time to reconsider their actions. Because an accusation was made, something seems to have gone wrong—a rule was broken, someone was hurt, or something was damaged. If possible and relevant, the student should clearly state their understanding of why their actions broke a rule or violated a standard, for example. The Administrative Board is as interested in the student’s understanding after the fact as it is in their honest account of what happened and what they were thinking at the time.

C. Draw some lessons. In writing a statement, a student should confirm what they learned from the incident and what they would do differently in the future if faced with similar circumstances, remembering that the statement will be read by the Administrative Board; while a court of law may be interested in establishing guilt or innocence, the Administrative Board wants to know whether and how a student has grown or changed as a result of their experience.

This statement may be shared with the person who made the initial complaint. If this person responds, the student will have the opportunity to write a rebuttal, which may also be shared with the same person.

A final piece of advice: While the Administrative Board wants to know what happened and what the student thinks about it, the student should include only what is necessary to accomplish that goal without drafting an overlong statement. Again, the dean of students is a good resource in determining how much to include. Since the dean of students (and the student, if they decide to attend) will be at the Board’s meeting, the dean can supply additional information to enhance the Board’s understanding of the case. The Board will also reach out for more information, if needed, before issuing a ruling.

6. A Date for the Board Meeting Is Set

Board members and the student agree upon a meeting time and date that is convenient for all.

7. The Board Hears the Case

Disciplinary cases are considered in private. A student charged with misconduct has the right to appear before the Administrative Board in any disciplinary matter, except for Title IX allegations. The student is not required to appear; however, the option should be discussed with the dean of students. Most students decide to appear based on one of these considerations:

  • Will their presence at the Board meeting and their conversation with the Board help the Board members understand the case better than the student’s statement and the oral report will?
  • Will appearing at the Board meeting add anything to the student’s peace of mind about the conduct and progress of their case?

Individuals wishing to attest to the character of a student ordinarily will be allowed to do so in written form only.

If the student is permitted to appear and decides to appear:

A. The student may ask a personal advisor in addition to the dean of students to accompany them to the Board meeting. The advisor must be an officer of the University. The role of the advisor is to support the student.

B. The student (and the advisor, if one has been chosen) attends the meeting at a time agreed to with the dean of students. The dean of students will meet the student and come into the meeting with them.

C. The dean of GSAS, as chair of the Board, will introduce themselves to the student and outline the procedures.

D. The dean of students will report the case orally, reviewing the facts and summarizing conversations with the student; the dean will ask if the student has anything to add. Then, if the student is willing, Board members may ask questions. When the question period is over, the dean will again ask if the student wishes to add or emphasize anything.

E. If relevant and appropriate, the members of the Board may ask questions of the advisor.

F. The student and the advisor, if there is one, are excused from the meeting. The dean of students will make arrangements to contact the student after the Board has considered the case.

In factually complex cases, the Board may establish a subcommittee. In those instances, the student’s appearance will normally occur before the subcommittee and not the entire Board. For more information about subcommittee cases, please contact the dean of students.

8. Board Consideration and Decision

The Board will discuss the case to determine if a violation of Harvard’s rules or the GSAS codes of conduct has occurred. A member of the Board will offer a motion (a range of motions are often offered), and the chair will call for the vote. In serious disciplinary cases, the chair requires at least a two-thirds majority on the vote. The dean of students does not vote on the case.

When reviewing a disciplinary case, the Administrative Board may consider any information that, in its judgment, will help its understanding of the situation.

9. Informing the Student

Almost invariably, the dean of students will contact the student shortly after the Board meeting ends. This is usually a brief conversation to inform the student of the decision and how the Board arrived at it, but it may go on longer if the student has questions about the decision, how the Board viewed the case, and what the ramifications of the vote may be. Shortly after this, the dean of students will send the student a formal letter, stating the Board’s decision and summarizing its understanding of the case. A copy of this letter, along with the student’s statement and any other relevant documentation, goes into the student’s confidential file as a record of the case.

Ordinarily, deliberations of the Administrative Board on matters of discipline will not be discussed with anyone not on the Board. Individual Board members’ attitudes or votes will not be revealed. The student’s department will be informed of the student’s status resulting from Administrative Board action.

Should situations arise that are not covered by these rules or in which the application of these rules seems inappropriate, the Administrative Board may formulate an appropriate ad hoc procedure.

Possible Outcomes

The Board’s decisions are governed by GSAS’s policies and guided by standard responses and considerations of equity. Every effort is made to provide fair treatment of each graduate student relative to all other graduate students. To take action, the Board must be sufficiently persuaded that the student has violated the rules of the Faculty. The Board’s decisions generally depend on two criteria:

  1. the seriousness of the infraction
  2. extenuating circumstances, including the extent to which a student has had similar trouble before.

Disciplinary action requires a majority vote of the eligible members present; in serious disciplinary cases, a two-thirds majority is required. Ordinarily, a close vote will lead to further consideration of the case by the Board, after which another vote may be taken.

The Board may take the following actions:

  • Scratch: If nothing wrong occurred or there are no grounds for action, a decision of scratch is recorded in a student’s file.
  • Take No Action: This action indicates that a serious accusation was made but was not or could not be substantiated.
  • Admonition: A reprimand that becomes part of the student’s official record but is not considered a formal disciplinary action. Admonition is not recorded on a student’s transcript.
  • Probation: Probation is a serious warning to students whose conduct gives cause for concern intended to spur the student to resume satisfactory behavior. If, at the end of a set period of time, satisfactory conduct has been maintained, the student will be relieved from probation. Failure to meet the conditions of probation is a grave matter and will ordinarily result in requirement to withdraw. Probation appears on the student’s transcript during the length of the probation. Once the probation is completed, the notation is removed from the transcript.
  • Requirement to Withdraw: Action taken in serious disciplinary cases indicating that the student’s behavior is unacceptable in this community. Requirement to withdraw is normally effective immediately upon the vote of the Administrative Board. A student who is required to withdraw is not in good standing until readmitted. Before the Administrative Board, the student’s department, and the dean of GSAS approve readmission, the student must ordinarily be away from GSAS for at least two terms, must demonstrate an acceptable record of performance during the absence, and must request readmission in writing. The requirement to withdraw appears on the student’s transcript during the length of the requirement to withdraw. If readmitted, the reason is removed from the transcript, however, the fact that a student was withdrawn for a time is permanently noted on the transcript.
  • Dismissal: Action taken in serious disciplinary cases whereby a student’s connection with the University is ended by a vote of the Faculty Council. The Board votes in favor of a requirement to withdraw with a recommendation to the Faculty Council that the student be dismissed. Dismissal does not necessarily preclude a student’s return, but readmission is granted rarely and only by vote of the Faculty Council. A dismissed student is not in good standing until readmitted. Dismissals are permanently noted on a student’s transcript.
  • Expulsion: The most extreme disciplinary action possible, signifying that the student is no longer welcome in the community. The Board votes in favor of a requirement to withdraw with a recommendation to the Faculty Council that the student be expelled. A student who is expelled can never be readmitted or restored to good standing. Expulsions are permanently noted on students’ transcripts.


A student may request that the Administrative Board reconsider its decision, provided that new and relevant information becomes available or that reasonable evidence of a procedural error exists. Students who believe they have sufficient grounds for reconsideration should first consult with the dean of students. Reconsideration of a disciplinary decision must be filed with the dean of students or the secretary of the Administrative Board within one week of the decision, unless, within that week, the dean or secretary grants an extension of time. Ordinarily, students will have only one opportunity to request a reconsideration of a decision.


Appealing Decisions to the Administrative Board

Graduate students may appeal decisions of their academic departments and of the GSAS administration to the Administrative Board.

Appealing Decisions Made by the Administrative Board

A student who is required to withdraw for more than one term can appeal to the FAS Faculty Council if:

  • the Administrative Board made a procedural error that may change the outcome of the decision; or
  • based upon a review of the annual disciplinary statistics of the Board, the sanction imposed was inconsistent with the Board’s usual practices.

All appeals need to be filed with the secretary of the Faculty within one week of the Administrative Board decision. A student may not seek reconsideration following the filing of an appeal.

If a student’s request for reconsideration by the Administrative Board was denied, the student must file an appeal of the decision with the secretary of the faculty within one week.

Once a student has been awarded a degree from GSAS, they may not ask the Administrative Board to reconsider a decision or appeal to the Faculty Council. Further information about the appeals process can be obtained from the secretary of the faculty.

In keeping with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a student with a disability who believes that the Administrative Board did not properly consider any claims pertaining to his or her disability may seek further review from the director of University Disability Services, including in disciplinary case decisions. For information on grievance procedures, visit University Disability Services.

Any student, faculty member, or administrative officer who has an inquiry, suggestion, or complaint may address it to the Commission of Inquiry.

Disciplinary Statistics

The statistics below reflect the period from 2010 to 2018:


  • Academic Dishonesty (19)
  • Social Behavior (6)
  • Academic/Administrative Procedure (1)


  • Academic Dishonesty (5)
  • Social Behavior (0)


  • Academic Dishonesty (7)
  • Social Behavior (1)


  • Academic Dishonesty (3)
  • Social Behavior (3)
  • Academic/Administrative Procedure (1)


  • Academic Dishonesty (3)
  • Social Behavior (2)


  • Academic Dishonesty (1)
  • Social Behavior (0)


  • Academic Dishonesty (0)
  • Social Behavior (0)


Patrick O'Brien
Patrick O'Brien
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs