Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana Discusses New ‘Restorative Justice’ Disciplinary Practices


Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana said in an interview earlier this month that the school has taken steps to integrate “restorative justice” into its disciplinary practices, a move that coincides with a downward trend in Administrative Board cases.

Restorative justice is a disciplinary philosophy that aims to rehabilitate offenders by encouraging them to take responsibility for harm they have caused, reconcile directly with victims, and redeem themselves.

When employed in educational settings, restorative justice practices have been touted as a way to reduce stress and racial disparities compared to zero-tolerance discipline policies.

“One of the things that we’re trying to do is include restorative justice practices into disciplinary areas,” Khurana said in response to a question about the low number of disciplinary cases that appeared before the Ad Board during the 2021-22 academic year.


“One of the areas that we’re trying to do that most is in our Houses,” he added.

Chaired by Khurana and composed of approximately 30 College administrators and faculty, the Ad Board enforces Harvard College policies, including disciplining students.

According to annual statistics released by the College, the 2021-22 academic year saw total Ad board disciplinary actions fall to a seven-year low, though the number of required withdrawals — the Board’s harshest sanction short of dismissal — remained consistent with previous years.

According to Charnele S. Luster, director of residential programs at the College’s Dean of Students Office, restorative justice initiatives at the College were championed by the Harvard College Women’s Center. In 2021, the center rolled out “Harm to Harmony,” a program aimed at piloting restorative justice practices in select spaces.

Following the pilot, in 2022 and 2023 restorative justice programs and training were expanded, Luster wrote in an emailed statement this week.

“The initial introduction to restorative justice took place during the Fall 2022 Residential Life training, where proctors and tutors were introduced to the fundamental principles of RJ, with a particular focus on building a sense of community,” she wrote, adding that additional training programs continued to be offered this year.

“This dedication to continued learning ensures that practitioners always have access to the latest insights, best practices, and resources in the realm of restorative justice, thereby further strengthening their ability to apply these principles within the campus community,” Luster wrote.

Khurana also addressed the following topics:

Grade Inflation

A report released by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences earlier this month found that the percentage of A-range grades at the College has risen from 60 percent to 79 percent over the last decade.

“We use one instrument to mean a lot of things,” Khurana said of letter grading.

“Sometimes that instrument is a little clunky to get at all of the aspects of what it means — at one level it is seen as an evaluation of how well people have mastered a certain amount of material,” he said. “In other areas, it is seen as doing a relative comparison across a group and holds significance in certain areas like fellowships, or applying for graduate schools.”

Khurana said that grades should not be the only system for evaluating students.

“That’s a lot to ask out of one letter or one number,” he added. “The report tries to outline the complex aspects of how people view and understand grades and also compare different institutions.”

Eliot House Deans

Eliot House Faculty Deans Kevin J. Madigan and Stephanie A. Paulsell late last month announced they would be stepping down at the end of the 2023-24 school year, citing an illness in their family.

Khurana confirmed that the search for the new Eliot House faculty deans has begun, and he thanked the pair for their time at the helm of the House. The deans assumed their roles in July 2020.

“They have built on a long tradition, but also innovated in a way of creating a cohesive and inclusive community, and I’m grateful for all the work they put in,” Khurana said.

—Staff writer J. Sellers Hill can be reached at Follow him on X @SellersHill.

—Staff writer Nia L. Orakwue can be reached at Follow her on X @nia_orakwue.