Peer Dispute

Students may be concerned that the circumstances under which the incident occurred might compromise their ability to bring an allegation forward or subject them to disciplinary action. The Board’s focus in a peer dispute case is on the allegations. Students are encouraged to come forward if they believe one of their peers has violated the College’s standards of conduct, regardless of the surrounding circumstances. Please note that The Office for Dispute Resolution (“ODR”) has been charged with implementing procedures for students pursuant to the Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment Policy (“Policy”). You can find more about their process here.

Peer Dispute Process

Allegation Received

Every peer dispute disciplinary case begins with an allegation in the form of a complaint by another currently enrolled Harvard undergraduate. Any formal charges that may ensue are made by, and on behalf of, the College. A charge begins the Administrative Board’s investigation, but it does not assume misconduct has occurred. It simply identifies the section of the Handbook which is at issue in the concern. For more information about reporting an allegation, click here.

More Information 

Notification of the Respondent

The Respondent will be notified by the Secretary of the Board (or other designee of the Dean of the College) that an allegation has been made against him or her. During that meeting, the Secretary of the Board will outline the College’s confidentiality policies, disciplinary process, and the allegation. At this point, the Respondent will be asked to write an initial statement, but he or she will not have access to the Complainant’s statement or any of the details the Complainant has provided.


Initial Review

After the Complainant and Respondent have submitted their initial statements, both students will receive a copy of the other student's statement and will be allowed to respond in writing. These response statements will then also be exchanged. The initial statements, as well as both students' response statements, will be submitted to the subcommittee and, when applicable, to the fact finder by the Secretary.

The Secretary will refer the case to an independent fact finder and/or subcommittee of the Board for further investigation. Independent fact finders are typically professionals from outside the University. Subcommittees of the Board ordinarily consist of two or three people. Both students will be given the opportunity to meet with the fact finder and/or subcommittee of the Board to discuss the alleged incident and to answer questions. 

There is no obligation for you to meet with the fact finder or subcommittee, and, if you do, you are free to participate to whatever extent you feel comfortable, within the bounds of standard Board procedures. The Board will draw no conclusions or inferences from your decision.The Respondent and the Complainant meet separately with the fact finder and/or subcommittee and will never be asked to confront each other.

The subcommittee and/or fact finder may, at their discretion, solicit statements and/or interview others who were identified as potential sources of information. Any additional statements gathered will be provided to the complainant and respondent. The subcommittee may, at its discretion, interview others who were identified as potential sources of information. Both the Complainant and the Respondent's Board Representatives will be present for all interviews so that they can inform their student about what was said during the interview and about any information that was obtained.


The Charge Decision

Once the initial review is complete, the fact finder and/or subcommittee will evaluate the information and decide whether to recommend that the Dean issue a charge. The Respondent and Complainant will be notified individually by their Board Representatives of that decision and both students will have an opportunity to respond to the subcommittee’s recommendation in writing. The subcommittee will make its recommendation to the Dean of the College, who ordinarily will make the decision whether to issue a charge.

After the subcommittee makes its charge recommendation, the Dean of the College will read all statements and responses, as well as the Respondent and the Complainant’s responses to the subcommittee’s charge recommendation, if any. After reviewing this material carefully, the Dean will take one of three possible actions:

  1. Issue a charge and refer the matter back to the subcommittee for further investigation;
  2. Bracket, or postpone, the decision on issuing a charge pending receipt of additional specific information; or
  3. Decline to issue a charge, because the Dean determines that further investigation is unlikely to obtain information adequate for the Board to decide the case or it is clear that the alleged behavior is not a violation of the rules of the Faculty. If the Dean declines to issue a charge, the matter is no longer under review by the Board.

Additional Interviews and Information Gathering

If a charge is issued, the fact finder and/or subcommittee will conduct additional interviews with the Respondent, the Complainant, and possibly other relevant parties (including, for example, those identified as potential sources of information by the Respondent or the Complainant). Witnesses who are no longer on campus or in the Boston area are sometimes interviewed by phone or other electronic means (e.g., Skype, FaceTime, etc.). Your Board Representative will continue to attend all relevant meetings and keep you informed of the progress of the case. He or she also will provide you copies of all documents and other information obtained by the subcommittee at this stage of the process.

Report and Recommendation

At the conclusion of its investigation, the subcommittee will issue a confidential report, called a Subcommittee Report, to all of the members of Board. The Subcommittee Report describes the facts and circumstances of the case and may include a recommendation for disciplinary action. This recommendation is a starting point for the Board’s discussion in your case. In all cases, the Board is not limited in its discussion and has the full range of sanctions allowed by the Faculty available to it.

Subcommittee Reports include copies of all statements and other documents obtained by the fact finder or subcommittee and deemed relevant to the allegations (such as police reports, court documents, or other records). The Respondent and the Complainant will have the opportunity (typically one to three days) to read and respond to the Subcommittee Report in advance of the meeting at which the Board will decide the case. You may respond either in writing or orally to your Board Representative, who will be present when the Board hears the case.

Presentation of the Case

At the conclusion of the investigation, your case will be presented to the full Board at one of its regularly scheduled meetings. All documents collected as part of the investigation will be distributed to the membership in advance of the meeting, including the Subcommittee Report and copies of the other documents obtained by the fact finder and/or subcommittee and deemed relevant to the allegations (such as police reports, court documents, or other records). During the presentation of your case to the full Board, your Board Representative will convey any other additional information that you wish the Board to know. More


Cases are decided by a majority vote of the members present and eligible to vote; however, an outcome of requirement to withdraw requires a two-thirds, rather than simple, majority. Once an outcome has been reached, the Respondent will be notified of the Board’s finding by his or her Board Representative, and his or her Resident Dean of Freshmen/Allston Burr Resident Dean will send a letter confirming the Board’s decision in writing. The Board’s proceedings and decisions are confidential and communicated only to those with a need to know. In cases involving allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or physical violence, the Complainant will also be informed of the Board’s decision. In most other cases, the Complainant will not be informed of the Board’s decision.

After the case has been decided, all materials reviewed by the Board members are destroyed. Regardless of the outcome, a redacted copy of the confidential Subcommittee Report, if applicable, and all other materials will be placed in a sealed envelope in your College file. These documents are part of your educational record as defined and protected by federal law.

Click here for a diagram of this process. Additionally, we have produced printer friendly files of the process for both Complainants and Respondents