UPDATED: November 24, 2015, at 4:39 a.m.
The graduate board of the Fox Club, one of Harvard’s historically male final clubs, shut down the organization’s house earlier this month just weeks after undergraduate leaders decided to add women to their membership for the first time and a day after a party there prompted controversy among alumni.
“In light of recent events involving conduct unbecoming [of] members of the Fox, the Board of Directors has closed the Club immediately until such time as it sees fit to reopen it, but not before January 1, 2016,” an email, signed by the Fox’s board of directors, told club affiliates on Nov. 14.
The email, one of several pieces of internal club correspondence recently obtained by The Crimson, did not specify exactly what had prompted graduate members to close the club. But it came a day after undergraduates threw a party that proved controversial when photographs of the event circulated among alumni, according to one club graduate member, and two weeks after nine women were scheduled to be inducted into the off-campus social organization.
Together, the correspondence indicates that the Fox’s historic move to accept women has met several roadblocks, including pushback from club alumni, some of whom have raised concerns about the membership change, even before the party controversy on Nov. 13.
Shortly after undergraduate club leaders told alumni that they had moved to go co-ed, graduate board members called for a special meeting to discuss the change and stipulated that the fall’s class of new members—including nine women—would remain provisional until they are approved. Now, their clubhouse closed, the Fox’s transition remains in flux.
‘POSTPONED UNTIL AFTER THE CLUB REOPENS’
The Fox Club’s abrupt closure came at the tail end of the fall semester’s process for selecting and inducting new undergraduate members. The club was scheduled to host alumni at its building at 44 JFK St. for a black-tie initiation dinner at 6 p.m., according to an invitation.
When Hugh M. Nesbit ’77, the head of the Fox’s graduate board of directors, emailed other club affiliates about the club’s closure on the afternoon of Nov. 14, however, he stipulated that the “Initiation” event, originally scheduled for that evening, would be “postponed until after the Club reopens.”
Shortly before the Fox’s building was closed, according to an active graduate member of the club, some club alumni had reacted negatively to a party that Fox undergraduates had held that Friday. Photographs of the students were circulated among graduate members.
The day following the club’s closure, on Nov. 15, Nesbit wrote in an email addressed to a “Fellow Fox” that the previous day’s “decision by the Board of Directors was made with due deliberation and unanimity.”
“All of us need a little time and space to reflect on what it means to be a member of the Fox,” Nesbit, who did not respond to a request for comment, wrote in the message. “Reasonable people of differing views can reason together toward a common goal, the welfare of our Club. Without that, what do we have?”
‘DIFFICULT DECISIONS FACING THE FOX CLUB’
Weeks before the graduate board formally closed the clubhouse, though, there were signs of discord between undergraduate and graduate members of the Fox unrelated to the November party.
The undergraduate Fox Club leadership moved to accept women to the more-than 100-year-old social organization in October, even though undergraduate club members who had advocated going co-ed in 2014 had already faced pushback from graduate members.
When club officers described their decision in an Oct. 19 letter to graduate members, they pitched it as a decision of their own, but one expedited by pressure from Harvard administrators, who have become increasingly critical of single-sex social organizations, and particularly male final clubs, which are not recognized by the College. Under this scrutiny, the male Spee Club invited women to participate in the final club selection process, known as punch, for the first time this fall.
The Fox undergraduates’ Oct. 19 letter indicated that they had gone ahead and asked a group of women to join the club before receiving formal graduate board approval.
Fewer than two weeks after the undergraduate letter was dated, on Oct. 30, the Fox’s graduate board of directors wrote an email of their own, maintaining that new members’ full acceptance to the club was pending, a policy evidently applied to both the club’s new male initiates as well as the nine women. That message indicates that there had been pushback from graduate members in response to the membership changes.
“In view of concerns expressed by the Grad Board and other Club members, the Undergraduate Board has agreed that all new members will be initiated as Provisional Members for the remainder of this academic year, with such memberships to be converted to permanent memberships only after confirmation by the Grad Board and Graduate Association that appropriate house rules, policies, and procedures are in place to their satisfaction,” the board of directors wrote on Oct. 30.
Graduate members of the Fox also scheduled to meet this past Sunday at the Sheraton Commander Hotel in Cambridge. That meeting, detailed in a Nov. 4 email sent on behalf of graduate club members to “Friends of the Fox,” was convened to discuss membership policies and the “difficult decisions facing the Fox Club.”
“The overall objective of this initiative is to actively engage a large and broad cross-section of club membership in refining/affirming the key values and principles of the Fox Club and ascertaining, in a more structured, comprehensive way, the views of the membership on a number of key policy areas including, but not limited to, club membership (male only vs. co-ed) and the broader role of the Club in the lives of our undergraduate and graduate members,” the message said.
The Fox’s graduate board leadership has also reshuffled in the weeks since the club moved to go co-ed. Earlier this fall, Nesbit replaced Reverend Douglas W. Sears ’69, the former Fox Club graduate board president, according to a Nov. 1 email to club affiliates signed by the Fox board of directors. Sears “expressed his desire to cut back on his duties” and will continue to serve on the club’s board of directors, the email said.
Sears, previously a vocal critic of the Fox going co-ed, declined to comment. The Fox’s undergraduate president, Daniel T. Skarzynski ’16, and vice president, Patrick E. Dowling ’16, also declined to comment for this story.
—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @trdelwic.