Lewis Sharpens Critique of Single-Gender Policy

Former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 is becoming increasingly vocal in his opposition to the College’s new policy that will penalize student involvement in single-gender social organizations.

Harry Lewis Q&A
Former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 is a vocal critic of a new policy on single gender organizations.
In the past week, Lewis has spoken out against the policy to students in his computer science class, faculty colleagues in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Faculty Council, and to the public in a blog post that decried the policy as “the height of arrogance.” Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, through College spokesperson Rachael Dane, declined comment on any of Lewis’s recent criticisms.

The policy in question, which, starting with the Class of 2021, will bar members of single-gender social organizations from College endorsement for top fellowships, varsity captaincies, and many leadership positions, was announced in May after almost a year of meetings and reports on the topic.

In announcing the policy, Khurana wrote that “Harvard has the obligation to establish the general regulations and standards governing Harvard students, faculty, and staff that are consistent with our educational philosophy.” University President Drew G. Faust has continued to defend the new policy in recent interviews and a video feature for The Atlantic.

Lewis’s opposition to the policy first became public when The Crimson published a private letter that Lewis sent to Khurana. In the 3-page letter, Lewis called on Khurana to roll back the sanctions, which he said broke “dangerous new ground” in administrative oversight of undergraduates’ lives.

Lewis’s recent ramp-up in anti-policy rhetoric comes ahead of an Oct. 4 Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ meeting in which the Faculty could vote on a motion submitted by Lewis and 11 colleagues that resolves that the College “shall not discriminate against students on the basis of organizations they join.” Lewis and other signatories of the letter believe the motion, if passed, would strike down the administration’s sanctions given that the University’s statutes put the Faculty in direct control of the College.

While FAS administrators have declined to comment on the potential power of a successful motion, members of this year’s Faculty Council, which decides the agenda for faculty meetings, met with Lewis and co-signatories Margo I. Seltzer and Richard F. Thomas last week.

Though Lewis said Faculty Council rules prohibit him from characterizing what other people in the meeting said, he wrote in an email to the Crimson that he “asked the members of the Faculty Council how they would feel if the new policy applied to faculty as it applied to students.”

“Would that give you any discomfort? If yes, why would we make this the rule for students?” Lewis wrote.

More a dozen members of the Faculty Council did not respond or declined request for comment on the meeting. FAS spokesperson Anna Cowenhoven declined to comment.

The same day Lewis met with the Faculty Council, Wednesday of last week, he also polled students on their views of the policy in Computer Science 121, the large lecture course Lewis teaches.

In an account of the poll later published on his blog, which has been inactive since 2015, Lewis wrote that he first asked any students supportive of the new policy to hum audibly, next asking students who opposed the policy to hum. Lewis wrote that he employed the humming technique to achieve a rough consensus while maintaining student anonymity.

“The consensus was there and it was overwhelmingly negative,” Lewis wrote.

Sathvik R. Sudireddy ’19, who attended Thursday’s lecture, said he thought “a lot of people hummed against it” also and that Lewis seemed “satisfied with the results” of his survey.

While Lewis acknowledged the sample was far from representative, he wrote that he was still surprised the class was not in favor of the policy.

Two days after posting about the CS121 straw poll, Lewis published another post on his blog that related to the final club sanctions. The post, which ranged in topic from Godwin’s law and Nazism to the Communist witch hunts that dogged Harvard in the 1950’s to the merger of Harvard and Radcliffe, again criticized the new policy. Lewis was particularly critical of what he saw as the scant student feedback the administration solicited in crafting the policy.

“Harvard’s confidence in the judgment of its students is at a modern low—they were not even consulted,” Lewis wrote, pointing to the dearth of town halls and House discussions on the issue before the policy was announced.

In announcing the policy, Khurana wrote that it was developed “with careful deliberation.”

“Over the past two years, we have engaged with students, including those who are members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations,” Khurana wrote at the time.

On Tuesday, Khurana officially announced the implementation committee—which will include students, faculty, and staff—that will spearhead the rollout of the new policy.

—Staff writer C. Ramsey Fahs can be reached at ramsey.fahs@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @ramseyfahs.

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