Last Friday, Harvard University imposed academic sanctions on approximately 60 students as a result of a cheating scandal involving the final exam on a course on Congress, while initially implicating over twice that number when the scandal first began to unfold last year.

The trouble began in spring semester of last year, when a TA for the undergraduate course found that many of the answers for a take home test were likely shared between students. Much of the proceedings from that point forward remained classified by the college, until Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith sent out a campus-wide email on Friday which stated that the campus’s ethics board had resolved all cases involved with the cheating scandal.

While withholding the exact number of students punished as a result of the proceedings or any information on specific cases, Smith did say that ”somewhat more than half” of the students were forced to withdraw from the school for a undisclosed period of time. Harvard did disclose that the average length of time for a forced withdrawal is from two to four terms.

According to The Harvard Crimson, many of the students implicated belonged to the school’s sports teams, including two basketball co-captains who were removed from the team, while football, hockey, and baseball players were also reported to be connected to the scandal.

In his email, Smith went on to explain that a committee would be using the controversy as an opportunity for exploring new avenues in creating a more honest and ethical academic environment

“This is a time for communal reflection and action,” wrote Smith. “We are responsible for creating the community in which our students study and we all thrive as scholars.”

However, Harvard’s actions in handling the affair have also drawn criticism from some, including Staples founder and Harvard alumni Thomas Stemberg, whose son also attends the university. In January, Stemberg wrote a letter to Harvard’s president that placed the blame for the scandal on the shoulders of the course’s professor and not the students, claiming that the rules for exams were changed for this test and that “open collaboration” had previously been encouraged by the professor.

“If you challenge the entire faculty at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Law School to come up with a process that took more time, cost more money, embarrassed more innocent students, and vindicated guilty faculty … that could not have outdone the process that took place,” said Stemberg. “If the message was so clearly expressed, why did some of the teaching fellows go over the exam in open session … If they did not get the message, could one expect the students to understand it?”

This concern was echoed by Tara Raghuveer, the current Harvard Undergraduate Council President, who said that many students questioned the clarity of the exam’s instructions in regards to group work.  Raghuveer also said that the lengthy investigation left many students unsure of whether they would be able to finish the 2012-2013 as planned, and that those students forced to leave should not be ostracized when they returned to school after the disciplinary period concluded.

“The students who are implicated in this scandal from last spring still need to be recognized as members of our community … They shouldn’t feel alienated from Harvard,” said Raghuveer. “This was an unfortunate incident. Students are being punished accordingly.”