UPDATED: October 7, 2016, at 12:22 p.m.
Following the delay on discussion of a Faculty motion that could spell trouble for a new College policy, Harvard’s single-gender final clubs have settled into a familiar activity: playing the waiting game.
In the year before the announcement of an unprecedented policy, which will penalize members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations starting with the Class of 2021, Harvard’s 12 final clubs were constantly anticipating possible administrative action. Administrators had, for months, cajoled, urged, and ultimately threatened penalties if the clubs did not adopt gender neutral membership policies, while clubs guessed at possible outcomes.
In April, Fly Club graduate president Richard T. Porteus Jr. ’78 lamented the duration and what he described as lack of specificity involved in proceedings with the administration.
“As we approach the end of a full year of conversation focused on that one topic, no details have emerged,” Porteus wrote in an email to Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana ahead of an April meeting between club leaders and College administrators.
Now, the clubs, along with other single-gender social organizations such as fraternities and sororities, are waiting for a Faculty vote on a motion that its proponents think could strike down the administration’s policy. That motion, proposed by former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68, stipulates that “Harvard College shall not discriminate against students on the basis of organizations they join.”
Many observers thought professors would vote on the motion at Tuesday’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting, but a discussion on the topic was delayed because some professors observed Rosh Hashanah and the motion was designated as “substantive”—which means it must be discussed at one meeting before going to a vote. Now, Dec 6. Is the earliest professors would be able to vote on the motion.
During this waiting period, though, some clubs are occupying the interim by exploring their legal options. The all-male Fly Club, for instance, has retained the services of a legal team led by longtime Cambridge attorney Harvey A. Silverglate. In addition to the Fly, one other organization affected by the policy has retained legal services in anticipation of a possible legal fight, according to a leader of that group.
Silverglate said he was not particularly surprised by the delay, having noticed the conflict with Rosh Hashanah months before the Oct. 4 Faculty meeting. But, he said extra time can only be a good thing.
“There are some benefits to letting this cook a little bit, kind of percolate, and be the subject of more discussion,” Silverglate said. “The academic community is based on discussion, study, analysis meditation.”
The delay will also give Silverglate and his “fellow lawyers somewhat more time to complete the legal research.” Silverglate said he “does not think it likely” the Fly will file suit against the University before the Faculty votes on Lewis’s motion.
This fall, the final clubs are not waiting for certainty alone—Harvard’s sororities and fraternities also eagerly await a resolution to the faculty motion. The undergraduate and national leadership of Harvard’s Greek organizations were, for the better part of last year, unaware that they might be affected by any administrative sanctions.
Though Executive Director of the National Panhellenic Conference Dani Weatherford wrote in an emailed statement that the organization would “continue to press for the university to reconsider its policy,” the national umbrella group will take a back seat at least until faculty proceedings have played out.
“Ultimately… the future of this policy will be determined by the Harvard community. That makes the voices of students and the Harvard faculty crucially important in the weeks and months ahead,” Weatherford wrote.
—Staff writer C. Ramsey Fahs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ramseyfahs.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: October 7, 2016
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the National Panhellenic Conference.