Social Group Ban Revives Faculty Concerns Over Governance

Faculty Meeting
SEAS Dean Frank Doyle and Computer Science professor and former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 enter University Hall for the Faculty meeting in April.
In January, when Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced the creation of a faculty committee that could revise or replace penalties on members of single-gender groups, many Faculty members could breathe a sigh of relief: their concerns, it seemed, had been heard.

For months, at meetings of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, in op-eds in The Crimson, and on at least one personal blog, professors had criticized the policy and the way it was crafted. Administrators, they charged, had failed to consult the Faculty on a major University decision that some called discriminatory, and a motion that sought to nullify the policy nearly came to a vote at several Faculty meetings.

But now that that faculty committee has recommended that Harvard bar student membership in all social groups, some professors are back where they started nearly a year ago: unsatisfied with the policy-making process and concerned that administrators are encroaching on Faculty authority in their efforts to upend undergraduate social life at Harvard.

In particular, professors say they are troubled that University President Drew G. Faust, and not the Faculty, is slated to have the final say over the social group recommendations.

In its 22-page report, the faculty committee recommended updating the Harvard College Handbook for Students to include the proposed new social group ban. The committee plans to present its suggestions first to Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith and then to Faust in mid-fall 2017.

“The President will make the final decision,” the report reads.

Multiple faculty members charge that this path to approval goes against precedent—and, some say, against a University statute which delegates “immediate charge” of the College to FAS. Traditionally, the full Faculty has approved changes to the student handbook each year.

“I’ve been on the Faculty and going to Faculty meetings since 1974, and I can’t remember another time when the President has announced a rule that you have to put in the Handbook,” said Harry R. Lewis ’68, a computer science professor and former Dean of the College who is one the social policy’s most vocal opponents. “Those things always go before the Faculty.”

In their email sent to faculty announcing the recommendations, faculty committee co-chairs Suzannah Clark, a music professor, and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana promised to hold “open faculty discussions” in early fall 2017, and to take “faculty consultation… into account” when presenting the committee’s recommendations to Smith and Faust. But the committee has not said it will allow a Faculty vote on the policy.

Clark did not respond to repeated requests for comment. History professor Alison Frank Johnson, a member of the committee, wrote in an emailed statement that she personally hopes the faculty will eventually vote on the recommendations.

“Although I cannot speak for other members of the committee, my own belief during all our committee discussions was that our full report would be presented to the Faculty Council and, if it gained their approval, subsequently to the full FAS Faculty at a Faculty Meeting,” Johnson wrote.

Five professors contacted by The Crimson said they were disturbed by the idea that the recommendations might not come before a full faculty vote. Classics professor Richard F. Thomas said he thought the committee’s plan to approve its recommendations posed “some pretty serious issues... procedurally.”

“This is not an authority that should be given to the President,” Mathematics professor Wilfried Schmid agreed. “The Faculty is a continuing body. The President is temporary.”

Other professors voiced their disapproval in posts on Twitter and on the official faculty feedback website Harvard established in wake of the report’s release. Lewis penned two scorching posts on his personal blog, writing that the ban smacks of “authoritarianism” and that the proposed approval mechanism “makes no sense.”

Lewis has been perhaps the most outspoken faculty detractor of the College’s attempts to regulate student participation in final clubs and Greek organizations. In May 2016, the same month Faust debuted the College’s social group sanctions, Lewis filed a Faculty motion designed to kill the proposed penalties.

Lewis withdrew his motion after the formation of the faculty committee. At the time, he wrote a letter to Faust and Khurana praising the new committee—but promised he would reintroduce his motion should the policy be “reaffirmed without adequate revision.”

Now, Lewis may follow through on his threat.

“I and a number of other faculty are discussing that motion and reintroducing it,” he said.

—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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