Faust Weighs Options on Social Group Ban

President Faust
University President Drew G. Faust pictured in 2015.

As Harvard considers the example of small liberal arts colleges that have banned membership in Greek organizations, University President Drew G. Faust is also looking at schools that have sought to regulate—and not disband—the groups.

Faust said in an interview Wednesday that she has had conversations with current and former administrators at Yale and Princeton, two schools that have sought to create closer ties with social groups rather than penalize membership in them. She made those comments as she weighs an interim recommendation from a faculty committee that Harvard forbid membership in “fraternities, sororities, and similar organizations”—including co-ed groups—entirely.

That interim recommendation would strengthen an existing set of penalties on members of single-gender groups that bar members in the Class of 2021 from athletic team captaincies and from receiving College endorsement for post-graduate fellowships. Ultimately, Faust will decide whether to keep the current policy or ban membership entirely after the committee delivers its final report this week.

In the interview Wednesday, Faust said she was still making up her mind about the proposed ban.

“I’ll wait and see what the final proposal to me is and reflect on what they ask of me and decide at that time,” Faust said. “I want to see the full rationale and hear discussions that once again will be taking place at the Faculty meeting next week.”

The committee’s interim recommendation drew from the examples of Amherst, Williams, and Bowdoin Colleges, all of which banned membership in fraternities and sororities. While Faust said she has been considering those schools, including reading a book on Williams College’s move to eliminate fraternities this summer, she only mentioned Yale and Princeton by name in a Crimson op-ed Wednesday decrying the “discriminatory and exclusionary” groups.

“Confronted with strikingly similar organizations, Princeton, Yale, and others found the institutional will to act. It is past time for us to do the same,” Faust wrote.

While she was serving as the president of Princeton, Shirley M. Tilghman—now a member of Harvard’s Corporation—helped push the administration there to embrace "eating clubs," co-ed social groups that serve as dining halls and social centers for many Princeton students. A task force report recommendation during her presidency made strides toward making admittance into the final club-esque groups less exclusionary.

Faust said she has “talked to [Tilghman] a lot about what went on at Princeton,” adding, “She’s given me a lot of thoughtful comments and advice.”

Faust also said she has discussed social life at Yale with the school’s president Peter Salovey. Last year, a Yale College Council task force recommended that the university formalize ties with Greek organizations—an approach that contrasted with Harvard's. Yale’s Dean of Student Engagement Burgwell Howard added that he sees “an opportunity to work with our Greek organizations” in an interview with the Yale Daily News.

But Faust is not looking to model Harvard’s approach on other schools.

“I’ve turned to [other schools] for thoughts and looking for parallels, but I think we’re our own place and I don’t think we want to model ourselves against anybody else, because there are just different circumstances and different factors that are in play,” Faust said.

In her op-ed, Faust warned against the specter of a “fraternity/sorority campus” and a “shadow social environment” emerging at Harvard—and wrote that the College has a duty to act.

“We must not abdicate our obligation to take the next step in the long, historic, and ongoing movement toward ensuring that all students are full citizens of our University, that none are denied its opportunities solely because of accident of birth,” she wrote.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences will discuss the possibility of a ban on social group membership at its monthly meeting on Oct. 3. The Faculty will also discuss a motion from former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 to entirely nullify the College’s efforts at penalizing or banning membership in off-campus social organizations.

—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at claire.parker@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.

—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at leah.yared@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @LeahYared.

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