But, in the wake of four final clubs' decisions to tighten guest policies, it seems that the administration has shaped the state of the campus social scene far more directly than Lewis' claim implies.
Lewis says he began raising concerns about the clubs' liability shortly after he became dean in 1996.
According to the head of the Inter-Club Council (ICC), those liability concerns ultimately prompted the A.D., Owl and Phoenix S.K. clubs to close their doors and the Delphic club to restrict guest access.
Now, with club members predicting more closings eventually, students are asking where Harvard goes from here.
Lewis maintains that the campus will be unaffected because final clubs were not the backbone of Harvard social life that some make them out to be.
Nevertheless, without the final club option, partygoers will have to turn to the Houses--where students say an inappropriately early curfew and red tape can sometimes hamper social events.
Administration Warned Clubs
Undergraduate and graduate club members attribute the changes in guest policy to the fear of a liability case like the one of Scott M. Krueger.
Krueger was an MIT first-year who died after a night of drinking at a fraternity house in 1997. Criminal charges were brought against the fraternity, but it disbanded to avoid prosecution.
However, Lewis says he and other administrators began raising the issue of final club liability long before that.
"I believe we started warning the undergraduate and graduate officers of their potential liabilities as early as the spring of my first year as dean," Lewis wrote in an e-mail message yesterday.
And ICC President Rev. Douglas W. Sears '69 says that although the administration has been communicating its wish that the clubs either shut down or admit women, the recent final club actions are not in response to these requests.
"We have refrained from lecturing Harvard on what it should be doing. Harvard has not refrained from lecturing us," Sears says. "It's none of Harvard's business."
Sears says the clubs' role as campus party center evolved from their original function because Harvard had done an inadequate job of creating other social outlets for students.
"[Harvard said,] 'admit women or quietly go out of existence.' No. You take your students and get them off our property," Sears says.
He says the administration looks hypocritical by blasting the clubs while failing to provide social alternatives.
"Harvard wants to sit and yap about it, act like they have some noble purpose, but it's really just money," Sears says. "How come you haven't provided a place for your kids to play?"
Is There a Problem?
In a Feb. 12 op-ed piece in The Crimson, Lewis responded to a survey in which a sample of Harvard students rated social life at the College, on average, 3.46 out of a possible 5.
Lewis pointed out the danger in asking the administration to tell students how they should fill their time.
"During college, students learn to take responsibility for their own actions, to make choices and to live with the consequences," he wrote.
"How can it be helpful to students' development as adults and as citizens for the College to assume responsibility for seeing to it that students do not feel they need to study on Friday nights?" he wrote.
And now both Lewis and Associate Dean for the House System Thomas A. Dingman '67 say that, while the College should not be responsible for fixing problems with social life, in this case there is hardly a problem at all.
"A certain type of partying that fits some beer-ad stereotype of social life may be more limited," Lewis wrote in an e-mail message.
Students interviewed this week had mixed opinions on the subject, with some saying that final club closings did not impact their lives at all.
"It doesn't matter where you go. It matters whom you go with," says June Beack '01.
But others say that a 1 a.m. weekend party curfew in the Houses and the forms students must fill out to hold parties make it hard for students to create their own social events.
"Sometimes [House parties] are good, but more often than not, they tend to be unfun," says Kristin A. Bevington '01. " It's disappointing, and I look for other things to do. I don't find that there's a lot to do on campus."
Catching the Runoff
In recent weeks, final club members have blamed randomization for lack of House unity and the increased dependence on club parties.
So it may make sense to predict that, as clubs close their doors on most weekends, the Houses may absorb some of the social runoff by default.
"The House communities provide an excellent opportunity for students to find entertainment," wrote Sigma Chi President Hector C. Bove '00 in an e-mail message.
"The Houses create a sense of camaraderie, and already many Houses have their traditional parties, i.e. the Leverett 80's dance or Winthrop's Debauchery party," wrote Bove, who is a Crimson executive.
Bove says Sigma Chi's tight guest policies will ensure that its role in the Harvard social scene will not change significantly in the aftermath of the club closings.
"I'm not too worried about that. Our parties are pretty strictly regulated--we have a guest list and we've been doing that for the past five years, since the chapter started," Bove says.
Marisa Noel '99, president of the Hasty Pudding club, said her organization has a similar policy against open parties.
Finding a Place to Play
The one thing that is certain as clubs close their doors is that the College has no plans to initiate its own formal response anytime soon.
"We'll want to be responsive as students come forward with their own ideas," Dingman said. "The best events are student-initiated."
"If there's interest, and they can't find a venue, I'm sure that the Dean of Students will be all ears," he added.
Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III has proposed setting up a barn on the quadrangle next to the Malkin Athletic Center and using it to host dance parties.
But this idea seems more like a philosophical statement--in line with Epps' belief that Harvard students need more personal interaction to round out their intellectual growth--than a legitimate plan for change.
Students this week said the College's best option may be not to do more, but to do less--easing off on curfew and party policies in order to allow more social events in the Houses.
"School events are options for some students who don't have a lot of money," says Edward A. Wheeler '99. "The school in general really lacks informal options, though--there are plenty of formal options, but there should be more House-based options that are open to more of the campus."
Graduate Council Bans Beer Kegs at Final ClubsThe graduate board presidents of Harvard's eight final clubs voted unanimously this summer--as part of sweeping reforms in the clubs'
Bee Should Act IndependentlyTo the editors: I must admit that after reading "The Bee: A Club of Their Own" (News, Feb. 17), my
No Shame in Having Some FunF or years, Harvard administrators have been washing their hands of the social inequalities at Harvard, beginning with their refusal
Clubs Limit Guests to Curb RisksAfter almost two decades at the center of Harvard's party scene four of the eight all-male final clubs have returned
Spee Final Club Decides to Close Its Doors to Non-MembersThe Spee final club has decided to bar all non-members from entering the club, no exceptions, effective last Thursday. Spee
A Good Time is Hard to FindIf Harvard students had a nickel for every time they or their friends criticized campus social life, the College would