Student Groups Lobby Professors to Vote Against Social Group Policy

Harry Lewis
Former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 filed a Faculty motion declaring the College shall not 'discipline, penalize, or otherwise sanction students' for joining 'any lawful organization.'
Several student groups—including the Harvard Republican Club—are lobbying professors to support a Faculty motion designed to kill the College’s proposed regulations of undergraduate social life.

Harvard’s current social group policy, announced May 2016 and now in effect for the Class of 2021, bars members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations from campus leadership positions, varsity team captaincies, and certain fellowships.

But the policy may be under threat: In August 2017, Computer Science professor and former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 filed a Faculty motion declaring the College shall not “discipline, penalize, or otherwise sanction students” for joining “any lawful organization.” The motion is slated for a Faculty-wide vote in November; if passed, it would contradict and cancel out the College’s sanctions.

Roughly a month ahead of the vote, at least six undergraduate organizations are hoping to sway the outcome in favor of the Lewis motion. The Republican Club on Tuesday sent an email to members asking them to sign up to talk with professors—“preferably ones you know well”—about why they should vote for the resolution.

Kent Haeffner ’18, the president of the Republican Club, said the group decided Tuesday at a club-wide meeting to help organize the lobbying effort, and has yet to contact any professors. He added club members oppose Harvard’s social penalties because they see the sanctions as “an attack on the freedom of association.”

“The ultimate outcome we’d like to have is we’d like to have this motion passed, and we’d like to see a return to respecting students’ basic rights,” he said.

The Republican Club is the latest group to join a broader, months-old movement launched in part by Conor Healy ’19. Healy said he began discussing the idea of lobbying professors with other students in July 2017.

He said six groups, including the Republican Club, have signed on to help to date. Healy declined to name the other five groups, claiming the organizations “don’t want to be in public speaking about it.” Healy is also the leader of the Open Campus Initiative, a group that has invited a number of controversial speakers to campus in the name of free speech, though he said the organization is not participating in the lobbying campaign.

“We’ve tried to facilitate a degree of coherent strategy among students that are interested in this and that includes the Harvard Republican Club and a few others,” he said. “We’re basically trying to understand who is talking to who, which students have a rapport with which professors, that kind of thing.”

Healy said he is unsure how many professors the six groups have reached to date, and that no one—as far as he knows—is keeping track of the exact number.

Questioned about the effort Wednesday night, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana wrote in emailed statement to The Crimson that he believes a “diversity of perspectives and voices” is vital to the mission of Harvard College. He did not answer a question asking whether he was aware of the students’ lobbying.

“This is one example of why inclusion and belonging is so important to our institution,” he wrote.

Lewis, a long-time and vocal critic of the College’s sanctions, wrote in an email Wednesday morning that he was previously aware of the lobbying campaign and that he is “glad” students and faculty are engaging in conversations about his motion.

“I heard about it, but I actually didn’t realize it was being done by any particular group,” he wrote. “I figured it was the members of the affected organizations.”

The Lewis motion is not the only factor complicating the fate of the sanctions. Last month, a committee charged with reviewing the College’s social group policy recommended Harvard instead consider the sanctions as one of three potential paths forward for undergraduate social life. The other two choices involve completely banning membership in unrecognized single-gender social groups or a vague set of “some other possible solutions.”

University President Drew G. Faust will decide which option to pursue in the next few months.

—Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at hannah.natanson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.

—Staff writer Derek G. Xiao can be reached at derek.xiao@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @derekgxiao.

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