Discuss as:

Harvard: No posthumous degrees for gays expelled in 1920

BOSTON -- Harvard University says it will not award posthumous degrees to seven students expelled from the Ivy League school in 1920 because they were gay or perceived to be gay.

"Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences does not award posthumous degrees except in the rare case of a student who completes all academic requirements for the degree but dies before the degree has been conferred," the university said in a statement.

"In 2002 the University expressed its deep regret for the way the situation was handled as well as for the anguish experienced by the students and their families almost a century ago."


A group of student and faculty had urged the university to award the posthumous degrees. The group planned a rally Wednesday during a campus visit by Lady Gaga, who will be at Harvard to launch her Born This Way anti-bullying foundation. The singer has been a strong activist for the gay community.

The group says it wants Harvard to formally abolish its so-called "secret court," a tribunal of administrators that investigated charges of homosexual activity among students in 1920. The tribunal remained a secret for decades, only becoming public in 2002 after a student reporter at Harvard searching the school's archive came across a file labeled "secret court" and reported on the school's expulsion of the students.

Lady Gaga's new foundation, named after her 2011 hit song and album, will address issues such as self-confidence, well-being, anti-bullying and mentoring through research, education and advocacy. The pop sensation is expected to be joined by Oprah Winfrey, spiritual leader Deepak Chopra and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during a kickoff event Wednesday on the Harvard campus.

"Given the Born This Way Foundation's commitment to this mission and their choice to launch their foundation at Harvard, we felt like this was an opportunity to ask for their support and would hope they would join us in asking Harvard to do the right thing here and help seek justice for these students," said Kaia Stern, a visiting faculty member at Harvard who plans to attend the rally.

Harvard administrators apologized for the secret court in 2002.

Former Harvard President Lawrence Summers called the episode "abhorrent and an affront to the values of our university."

"I want to express our deep regret for the way this situation was handled, as well as the anguish the students and their families must have experienced eight decades ago," Summers said in a 2002 statement to The Harvard Crimson newspaper.

The Associated Press and msnbc.com's James Eng contributed to this story.

More content from msnbc.com and NBC News