FAS Dean Calls Faculty Criticism About Lack of Involvement in Sanctions ‘Categorically False’

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith called Faculty criticism about their lack of involvement in crafting a historic social life policy “categorically false,” expressing his most in-depth comments on the contentious sanctions to date.

“If your statement simply is, that, ‘Was there a Faculty committee that put this policy forth?’ No,” Smith said during a phone interview Friday, with FAS spokesperson Anna Cowenhoven also present on the call. “Is there no input from the Faculty in this policy? That is categorically false.”

Announced last May, the College’s policy bars undergraduate members of unrecognized single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations, starting with the Class of 2021, from receiving the Dean of the College’s endorsement for prestigious fellowships, from holding leadership positions in recognized student groups, and from becoming varsity captains.

In response, former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 and 11 other professors crafted a motion opposing the policy. A vote on Lewis’s motion, which states that, “Harvard College shall not discriminate against students on the basis of organizations they join,” was scheduled for last Tuesday’s full FAS meeting. At that meeting, FAS’s docket committee—the Faculty’s highest elected body—recommended postponing the motion indefinitely.

Discussion of the motion ultimately was tabled until the next full FAS meeting in February, leaving some professors confused and uncertain about administrators’ dedication to shared governance on major decisions involving undergraduate life.

Michael D. Smith
Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith, right, pictured at Commencement 2015.

In a wide-ranging interview Wednesday and a subsequent phone conversation Friday, Smith addressed some Faculty concerns, including questions about the shared governance of Harvard, the limited role Faculty had in creating the policy, and the decision not to extend the Tuesday meeting’s discussion.

Smith said Friday that Faculty members have helped shape the policy and pointed to the University-wide task force on sexual assault prevention, which included several FAS professors. In March, that task force released a report recommending that University President Drew G. Faust create a plan to “[a]ddress the distinctive problems presented by the Final Clubs and other unrecognized single-sex social organizations.”

“That was a Faculty, student, staff committee that looked into at least one aspect of the final clubs and made recommendation to the President to ask the College for what they thought we should go forward on,” Smith said. “So, the blanket statement that says the Faculty have not had any input or decision making on this, I think, is not true.”

Administrators announced the policy at a time when they have increased their efforts to overhaul undergraduate social life, from reinvigorating Harvard's undergraduate Houses to funding parties on campus, in addition to contemplating ways to target excessive drinking and prevent sexual assault. Accordingly, administrators have said they hope to create safer, more inclusive spaces for socializing on campus, although some Faculty members and undergraduates believe administrators have exerted too much control over students’ personal, non-academic, lives.

But on Friday, Smith said refocusing social life in the Houses is not the goal of the sanctions on final clubs and Greek organizations.

“This has nothing to do with House renewal and social life in the Houses,” Smith said Friday, adding that conversations with current students and alumni have revealed a need for a variety of social outlets across the University.

“What the College is trying to move toward is a rich variety of different kinds of social alternatives on campus, for the students,” Smith said. “What worries many of us, is that we have a social life on our campus that is highly influenced by single-sex social organizations.”

Smith did not elaborate Friday on a timetable for the vote on Lewis’s motion—or the Faculty Council’s motion to postpone that vote indefinitely.

“My job is not to tell the Faculty when the discussion ends. The Faculty let us know when they are ready for the vote,” Smith said. “It’s one of the ways we work.”

During and after Tuesday’s meeting, some professors aired their concerns about shared governance, arguing the College policy may limit the will of the Faculty. After Tuesday’s meeting, University Professor Helen H. Vendler said she believed in issuing the policy, administrators infringed on Faculty rights to nominate undergraduates for fellowships.

Smith said he hopes to clear up professors’ confusion about how the policy affects their nomination of undergraduates for prestigious fellowships, including the Rhodes and the Marshall. According to Smith, the policy does not prohibit a Faculty member from writing a nomination letter for an undergraduate who belongs to a final club or Greek organization.

“A Faculty member can propose that, ‘This person, I think, is an outstanding person for the Rhodes, here’s how I understand them,’” Smith said. “They can even write to the Dean of the College and say, ‘Here’s why I think you should be supporting this person, here’s how I see the things that you’re going to write about,’ so that he [Dean of the College] can form his or her future letter. All those things are still allowed underneath the policy, as it’s been described at this point.”

Last month, Smith in an email to voting members of the Faculty released hundreds of undergraduate comments that contain the words “final club,” “fraternity,” or “sorority,” from five year’s worth of senior, freshman, and House life surveys.

According to Smith, there is no time pressure on the vote.

“I think we have a bit of time with respect to the motion, because the policy doesn’t actually take effect until next year, so we still have time to debate these things,” he said.

—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at melissa.rodman@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.

Tags