Although most students interviewed in a random survey yesterday agreed the all-male Fly Club should open its doors to women, they said they understood the logic of the state agency that dismissed the gender discrimination complaint yesterday.
The complaint, filed by Lisa J. Schkolnick '88 in December 1987, alleged that the club should be forced to admit women because its facilities, meal service, open parties and network opportunities put it under Massachusetts public acommodation law.
The case was for a time one of the most hotly contested student issues at Harvard, but the debate died down because of the protacted length of the investigation by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), a quasi-judicial body.
"For all intents and purposes, it is a private institution," said Robert C. McBurney 90. "The decision was well-founded." And said Andrew P. Cap '92, "I agree that final clubs are private and have a right to determine who they let in."
Campus activists yesterday decried the "finding of lack of jurisdiction," which lawyers for the complainant said they would appeal. They said they hoped to revive the debate during the appeals.
"It is unfortunate, but it does not mean that the Fly Club is right in excluding women," said Jeanne F. Theoharis '91, president of Stop Withholding Access Today (SWAT), a student group opposed to the nine final clubs' admissions practices. "Justice must be served."
Although most members of the Fly Club and other final clubs refused comment yesterday, Fly Club president Andrew M. Cameron '91 heralded the decision as a victory.
"The Fly is pleased with their decision," Cameron said. "The issue of allowing women in is for the members to decide, undergraduates and graduates. Changes will not be done from the outside." Phoenix Club president James L. Anderson '91 also said he was "pleased" with the ruling.
Activists--particularly members of SWAT, which was added as a party to the complaint last spring--said they planned to force the club to admit women through public pressure and legal means.
Annabella C. Pitkin '90, former treasurer of the Radcliffe Union of Students, said the club controversy was "certainly not a dead issue." She said the University should assume responsibility for the lack of adequate social life that makes the clubs atractive. "Harvard needs to take resonsibility--by building a women's center or a student center. They can't get off the hook," she said.
But Holly R. Zellweger '90 said she feared that students might no longer care as much about the final clubs. "It seemed like last year there was a lot of campus concern, but I'm not sure how people will react now," said Zellweger, who helped found Zealots In Protest, a group that distributed anti-final club propaganda last year.
"I think the decision was incorrect and unfair--according to our attorney [Kevin G. Baker], the decision was unfair," said SWAT member Crystia A. Freeland '90. Freeland said MCAD accepted questionable evidence provided by the Fly Club's attorneys without ascertaining the truth of the facts itself.
"In general, the onus to prove that there is no discrimination is on the defendant," Freeland said. "In this case, the onus to prove discrimination was on us."
Many of the 65 students interviewed at dining halls last night said they supported Schkolnick's crusade to open the clubs, although many questioned her motives for filing the complaint.
"I hope Lisa Schkolnick sues the Fly and shuts it down," said Peter R. Mitchell '92 yesterday.
And Raquel A. Romano '92 said that the best way to change the club's status is by pressuring the men who might participate in club events. "I think the way to get rid of that kind of discrimination is not through legislation, but when women refuse to go to these final clubs when invited by the men," she said.
Several students, however, said they did not object to the final clubs' policy of excluding women and that they thought the issue had been blown out of proportion.
"Only a few professional protesters care any more and they make an issue out of anything," said one student, who wished to remain anonymous.