Faculty Could Have Final Say on Social Group Policy

Dean Smith
FAS Dean Michael D. Smith speaks to the Class of 2021 at Convocation earlier this semester.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences will need to approve any “major changes" to Harvard’s social group policy, FAS Dean Michael D. Smith said in an interview last week, complicating University President Drew G. Faust’s ability to make a “final” decision about the future of undergraduate social life.

Smith’s comments come as Faust prepares to choose one of three options for the future of undergraduate social life: maintain a current set of penalties for membership in the groups, ban membership in unrecognized single-gender groups, or consider other alternatives. Those options were set out in the final report from a committee tasked with reviewing Harvard’s social group policy; the committee’s preliminary report asserted that “The President will make the final decision.”

But Smith said in an interview Friday that proposed changes to the Student Handbook would go before the Faculty Council—FAS’s highest governing body—twice and then to the Faculty meeting for a vote.

“If we’re going to have major changes because of what comes out of the discussion, decision-making around unrecognized single-gender social organizations, I’m sure they will involve the same process,” he said.

Under the current policy—which is not in the College handbook—students in the class of 2021 and beyond can not simultaneously be a member of an single-gender final club or Greek organization and hold club leadership positions or athletic team captaincies, or be recommended for certain postgraduate fellowships.

The committee, convened in January, set out to revise that policy after many professors argued that they had not been properly consulted in its formulation. Now that the committee has made its final recommendations, Smith has passed along that report to Faust, who will choose which option to implement, although she has not said when she will do so.

But Smith said that if if the Faculty oppose that decision enough to vote down its inclusion in the College handbook, there will need to be more discussion about the policy.

“The best outcome for us is to have the Faculty, administration, President, Corporation all agree that this is right for us,” he said. “If we’re not there, we don’t have a solution.”

Last week’s fiery Faculty meeting, which was extended to allow time for further discussion of the social group policy, included the introduction of two motions on the social group policy—an anti-sanctions motion from former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 and another from Government professor Danielle S. Allen.

Allen’s motion seeks to apply the College's Student Handbook standards to co-educational social groups, utilizing a 1989 Massachusetts statute. The motion would also bar students from joining single-gender social groups, and those who opted to join such groups would be subject to expulsion.

“Personally I don’t see all the clear next steps,” Smith said of Allen’s motion. “I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not even going to try to play one here.”

Allen published an op-ed last week in The Crimson defending and clarifying her motion in the face of “confusion.”

Both Lewis’ and Allen’s motions are eligible for a vote in November, but Smith warned against assuming this chapter of the social policy debate will end then.

“I have pretty much learned not to predict what’s going to happen in Faculty meetings. But it’s entirely possible that the Faculty may, as a group, decide that they need more discussion,” Smith said. “I’m not pushing this to a fast conclusion.”

Last year, discussion on the social organization policy dominated a number of Faculty meetings.

“The people I’ve talked to after the Faculty Meeting have all indicated to me that they thought it was a much more productive meeting than the discussions they’ve had about the topic last year,” Smith said.

—Staff writer Joshua J. Florence can be reached at joshua.florence@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.

–Staff writer Mia C. Karr can be reached at mia.karr@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @miackarr.

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