Faculty Committee Recommends Social Groups Be 'Phased Out'

Fly Club
The Fly Club is one of Harvard's all-male final clubs.
UPDATED: July 12, 2017 at 2:18 p.m.

A faculty committee has recommended that the College forbid students from joining all “fraternities, sororities, and similar organizations”—including co-ed groups—with the goal of phasing out the organizations entirely by May 2022.

In a 22-page report released Wednesday morning, the committee proposed that the policy—which would replace existing penalties for members of the social groups that are set to go into place in the fall—apply to students entering in the fall of 2018.

“All currently enrolled students including those who will matriculate this fall will be exempt from the new policy for the entirety of their time at Harvard,” according to the report. “This will lead to a transition period, whereby USGSOs would be phased out by May 2022.”

The committee suggested that Harvard model its new social group policy very closely on those enforced by Williams College and Bowdoin College, both of which forbid students form participating in social clubs during their time as undergraduates.

“It is unlikely that Harvard can improve upon the policies of these peer institutions,” the report reads.

The recommendations represent a significant development in a years-long effort by the College to curb the influence of single-gender social groups on campus. In May 2016, University President Drew G. Faust announced the College’s current policy, which bars members of single-gender social organizations from holding certain leadership positions on campus.

That policy was quickly imperiled, though, following widespread Faculty criticism, ultimately prompting the creation of a committee that could “revise or replace” the current policy. But that policy, which pressured the groups to adopt gender-neutral membership policies, did not go far enough in the eyes of the committee.

“Our main reservation about the stated goal of the policy was whether the focus on ending gender segregation and discrimination is too narrow,” the report reads. “If all of these organizations adopted gender-neutral membership in a timely fashion, there would remain a myriad of practices of these organizations that go against the educational mission and principles espoused by Harvard University.”

The report also recommends that the College review recognized independent student organizations “with the view to assessing the current training, resources, and procedures and to ensuring that the ISOs follow best practices and demonstrate their robust compliance with the College’s shared values.”

In addition to the broadening of the previous sanctions, the committee also recommended revisions to a number of controversial stipulations of the current policy.

With the proposed changes, students will no longer be required to sign an “affirmation of awareness” of the College’s policy, which some of the policy’s critics have likened to an oath. In March, biology professor David A. Haig filed a faculty motion criticizing this method of enforcement.

Instead, the committee wrote that “it seems sufficient to continue the assumption—as we always have—that students are aware of the contents of the Handbook upon enrollment.”

The committee recommends language for the College to put into place: “Harvard students may neither join nor participate in final clubs, fraternities or sororities, or other similar private, exclusionary social organizations that are exclusively or predominantly made up of Harvard students, whether they have any local or national affiliation, during their time in the College. The College will take disciplinary action against students who are found to be participating in such organizations. Violations will be adjudicated by the Administrative Board.”

In an appendix to the report, Haig—who was a member of the faculty committee—included a dissenting opinion. “The report proposes an escalation of the conflict between unrecognized social organizations and Harvard College,” he said.

Citing the lack of data about the previous policy’s favorability among either faculty or students, Haig added, “Harvard College can do better in reasoning with data.”

Violations of this understanding will additionally be adjudicated by the Administrative Board rather than the Honor Council, according to the report. A previous recommendation that the Honor Council review potential violations of the sanctions met with opposition from some members of the Council who charged it was not part of their original mission.

The committee’s recommendations will likely draw heavy criticism from both alumni and undergraduates in social groups, who have repeatedly attacked the existing policy as overreaching and unnecessary.

The committee is presenting its recommendations to the Faculty for feedback and will hold open discussions with faculty about the new policy during the coming semester. Faculty will be allowed to give feedback from now until late in the fall, according to the report.

Eventually, the committee intends to present its recommendations to Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith, and then to University President Drew G. Faust. Until the recommendations are reviewed and either approved or rejected by Faust, the College’s current social group policy—slated to go into place with the Class of 2021—is still in effect.

—This is a developing story. Check thecrimson.com for more updates.

—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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