Final Clubs On a Short Leash

In recent months, long-simmering tensions between the graduate boards and undergraduate members of Harvard's final clubs have come to a boil. As the two sides struggle over guest policies and club missions, they stand at a crossroads.

In April of 1998, graduate members of the Phoenix S.K. final club heard a nasty rumor. Undergraduate members, it seemed, had planned a party without telling them.

So, to protect their own legal liability and to teach undergraduates a lesson, a handful of graduate members made an unscheduled stop by the club just before the party. And stayed.

At one point, 200 people had gathered outside the club, located at 72 Mt. Auburn St. But with the graduates inside, the doors stayed closed.

It was one of the most direct confrontations in an ongoing building of tensions between undergraduates and graduate board members in many of the eight all-male final clubs.

The graduate boards' motivation extends beyond a desire to keep with tradition. Alumni, aware of the liabilities associated with guests and alcohol, want to save themselves as much as the clubs.


But undergraduates in recent years have turned the gentlemen's clubs into institutions more like fraternities at other schools, focusing more on drinking and parties with female non-members.

In the aftermath of a string of club closings to non-members--all at the behest of graduate boards--final club members say a change is coming.

Clubs likely will be forced to return to their original mission or face the fate of the D.U. club, which shut down four years ago after explosive graduate-undergraduate conflict.

Conflict Growing

On Jan. 20, 1999, the A.D. club closed its doors to non-members when the graduate board decided the liability risk of having guests socialize in their club is too high.

In the aftermath of that decision, three other clubs also shut their doors and two others have committed to clamping down on open-party policies.

With the exception of the Porcellian club, which has never held open parties, the A.D. was the first club to bar non-members since the clubs first began to allow visitors over the last two decades.

"I can't point to any particular incident [for why we have been changing]," says Rev. Douglas W. Sears '69, president of the Inter-Club Council (ICC). "This is just a barometer reading that unless we change, there could be problems."

"The grad boards of all the clubs are certainly concerned with prudent management issues," Sears adds. "They have a concerned managerial eye toward the operation."

In early May, after the slew of closings and policy changes seemed to have ceased, the A.D. graduate board locked its doors to undergraduate members, citing a need to renovate the club for the building's 100th anniversary this fall.

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