Admissions Office Fields Questions on Final Clubs

Dean of Admissions Fitzsimmons says the all-male social clubs are “not consistent with the mission of the College”

Echoing the criticisms leveled by top College administrators against Harvard’s final clubs, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said the all-male social organizations are “not consistent with the mission of the College.”

In an interview last Friday, Fitzsimmons reiterated comments made earlier this year by University President Drew G. Faust censuring the unrecognized clubs. While Faust also expressed concern over the potential for sexual assault and alcohol use to occur on the male final clubs’ off-campus properties, Fitzsimmons centered his criticisms on what he said are issues with how accessible the clubs are to women and students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67 speaks during an interview with The Crimson last spring.

“It is unfortunate that only half of our students would be eligible for these clubs, based on gender, and that there’s also an economic background issue,” he said. “Both of those kinds of things are certainly not part of what we consider the Harvard mission to be.”

Fitzsimmons’ comments are the latest in a conversation about the social clubs that has recently intensified both on campus and beyond. Earlier this month, the Spee Club became the first of Harvard’s eight all-male final clubs to invite both men and women to participate in the punch process after more than 150 years, drawing praise, skepticism, and nationwide media attention.

Leading the campus dialogue is Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, a vocal critic of what he has termed “exclusivity” in all spheres of undergraduate life. While Khurana has declined to say whether he was involved in the Spee’s decision to go co-ed, Fitzsimmons mentioned Khurana’s outspokenness as a catalyst for discussion of the clubs in the Admissions department.

Harvard severed ties with its all-male final clubs in 1984, and the College still does not officially recognize the five all-female final clubs, five fraternities, and four sororities that Harvard students now may join. This uncertain relationship—with meetings between administrators and final club leaders largely occurring out of the public eye—can be difficult for admissions officers to explain to potential applicants, according to Fitzsimmons.

“They don’t understand the difference between frats, sororities, and final clubs, because frats and sororities are more ubiquitous across the country,” he said in the interview, which Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Rachael Dane also attended. “Many people are thinking of the two as equivalent, which they’re not.”

Fitzsimmons said he has heard concerns from applicants about final clubs, their gender-based membership restrictions, and their socioeconomic makeup, but added that most applicants “are quite well informed about what goes on at colleges.”

“Certainly both President Faust and Dean Khurana have discussed the final clubs in depth even in the past week. Those are questions that came up,” Fitzsimmons said. “We describe [them], try to give people a realistic description of what they are. ... They are not consistent with the mission of the College, and so we’re very straightforward about that.”

—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at daphne.thompson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.

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