Rethinking the Sanctions

In the future, Harvard administrators should take into account both student and faculty opinions in major decisions.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana’s recent email regarding the establishment of a faculty committee to possibly revise or replace the College’s sanctions against unrecognized single-gender social organizations represents the latest chapter in the policy’s history since its unveiling last spring. Given the breadth of this policy across all unrecognized single-gender social organizations and its intrusion into student life, it is unfortunate but understandable that the sanctions have been at best a controversial move and at worst a public relations disaster.

Originally drawn up by administrators behind closed doors, the sanctions were announced as a way to combat sexual assault on campus, accusations that primarily implicated male final clubs. Despite this, the policy, which also affects female final clubs, fraternities, and sororities, has drawn debate and outcry from not only students, but also faculty. Most recently, professors debated and questioned the lack of faculty input on the shape of the sanctions at a December faculty meeting. However, the meeting adjourned without a vote on a motion against the policy. Harvard must hear student and faculty voices before making significant changes, especially with policies like these sanctions that have serious and far-reaching implications. Such input is critical to crafting improved measures and avoiding future public backlash.

That said, we commend the University for recognizing the limits of its prior approach and rethinking its decision after the faculty outcry. Even as the Implementation Committee continues its work on how best to implement the current policy, the formation of a new faculty committee by Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith to study “whether the policy can be improved” will provide additional insight that should be valuable in refining the sanctions. There can only be benefits in incorporating the concerns and perspectives of more faculty members, a view furthered by University President Drew G. Faust’s statements on the coming committee’s work: “If there’s another [policy] that gets us there…if there’s a better idea I welcome it.”

Nevertheless, we recognize that the concurrent processes of planning implementation and considering revision create complications for current and, especially, future students. These uncertainties are unfair to the Class of 2021. Given that the new faculty committee will not present recommendations until the fall, that class will have to choose whether to attend with still-unanswered questions surrounding their possible experience at the College. We hope that Harvard considers this kind of issue with large policy changes in the future.

It is imperative to include all perspectives in the University’s direction and keep in mind all the members of the Harvard community, both present and future.

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