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The Administrative Board has accumulated considerable experience in dealing with cases of academic dishonesty. In particular, the Board has considered multiple cases of plagiarism, papers submitted to multiple classes without permission, and misrepresented reasons for late submission of a paper or a final exam. Based on this experience, the Board offers the following statement about its practices in imposing disciplinary sanctions in such cases.

Under the Board’s procedures for disciplinary cases as stated in the Harvard Law School Handbook of Academic Policies, the Board is not meant “to be an adversarial or prosecutorial body. Its disposition is to handle matters that come before it as favorably to students as possible consistent with the maintenance of the high academic and ethical standards of Harvard Law School.” Those standards are exemplified by the Harvard Law School Community Principles, which provide as follows:

The Law School’s commitments to fairness, respect for the rule of law, and free inquiry require an environment of trust and mutual respect, free expression and inquiry, and a commitment to truth, excellence, and lifelong learning. Students, program participants, faculty, staff, and alumni accept these principles when they join the HLS community and thereby agree to respect the rights, dignity, and differences of others, pursue honesty and integrity in dealing with all members of the community in person and on-line, and accept personal responsibility in these efforts.

Accordingly, the sanctioning question presented in each case of academic dishonesty is how to craft a sanction that, in light of the particular facts and circumstances, imposes the least disruption to the student’s studies and career as is possible while preserving our community’s “high academic and ethical standards.” In recent years, after weighing these considerations in light of the facts of each individual case, the Board has concluded in the overwhelming majority of academic dishonesty cases that the appropriate sanction is a suspension, usually for one semester.

Given that suspension has so frequently been the sanction for academic dishonesty, and to be open and transparent with the HLS community, the Board has voted to issue this statement and formalize the practice. Going forward, in a case of academic dishonesty the Board will begin its deliberations over sanction with a presumption of a one-semester suspension. To be sure, the facts of a given case might warrant a lesser sanction, such as a reprimand, or no sanction at all. The facts might also warrant a more severe sanction, such as a multiple semester suspension or a recommendation of dismission or expulsion. In each case, the Board will continue to weigh the particular facts and circumstances in light of the imperative to resolve the matter “as favorably to [the] student as possible consistent with the maintenance of the high academic and ethical standards of Harvard Law School.” But the community should be on notice that the Board will begin each such deliberation with a presumption that preserving the “high academic and ethical standards of Harvard Law School” requires for academic dishonesty a sanction of suspension.

Approved by the Board on November 18, 2020, superseding
all prior statements concerning sanctions for academic dishonesty.