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On Final Clubs, Khurana Is Mostly Mum

Harvard College’s dean praises the Spee Club, but will not say if he was involved in its move to go co-ed

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana.
By Noah J. Delwiche, Crimson Staff Writer

The same day that one of Harvard’s all-male final clubs positioned itself to admit women, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana refused to say whether he was at all involved in the historic decision.

And as administrators place greater scrutiny on the unrecognized social clubs, Khurana also would not rule out the possibility that Harvard will put more administrative pressure on the groups to regulate them, saying in an interview Friday that “there is nothing off the table.”

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana. By Jennifer Y Yao

Khurana praised the Spee Club on Friday for its decision to become the first of the College’s eight all-male final clubs to invite women to participate in its punch process, when the group puts prospective members up for entry. “It contributes to strengthening an example and a model to our students who too often believe things can’t change,” he said.

Khurana, however, stopped short of acknowledging having any involvement, if he did, in the decision.

It remains unclear exactly how the Spee came to its historic vote. The vice president of the club’s graduate board, John G. Hanson ’80, called the decision “inevitable” and said support for adding women to the group has been “growing for several years now.”

Still, the move comes in the wake of increased administrative scrutiny on the club and its peer organizations. The Spee attracted attention last spring when it circulated a controversial party invitation that some people deemed sexist. And multiple people—including final club graduate board members and University President Drew G. Faust—have said Khurana, a relatively new dean, has been meeting with final club leaders and alumni. He is scheduled to meet with their graduate board leaders later this month.

Khurana has publicly criticized Harvard’s single-sex social clubs, which remain officially unrecognized by the College but are mostly located just off campus.

Repeatedly prompted on whether he had spoken with Spee Club leaders about going co-ed, Khurana responded only in broad statements.

“I try to be open to engagement with all members of our community to facilitate and enable dialogue and discussion, and to really encourage people to discuss among themselves ways that feel appropriate to them and align themselves to things that are generative,” Khurana said.

Khurana maintained that he speaks with all leaders of organizations who approach him and that he “never” reveals the identities of the groups he meets with or what they discuss. Citing similar reasoning, he also declined to comment on whether he or anyone on his behalf has specifically suggested to final club leaders that they welcome women to their memberships.

Khurana did, however, acknowledge that he is crafting a set of recommendations about campus social life and unrecognized social groups. He would not offer any details on what those recommendations include or when they will be done, although he did say “stakeholders” will discuss them.

“We've been putting together some ideas that people have suggested to us and began looking at the various possibilities of what those could take,” Khurana said. “We're not far along enough where I could say something is in or out.”

Khurana also broadly alluded to conversations he has had with unrecognized social organizations about the possibility of “a different kind of relationship with the College that's not just an unrecognized status.”

The final clubs have remained unrecognized by Harvard since they refused to admit women in 1984, but to date, administrators navigate a precarious relationship with the groups behind the scenes, even as they criticize them publicly.

Khurana declined to elaborate Friday on how that arrangement might change going forward, but he declined to rule out the possibility of administrators pursuing an action similar to Amherst College, which barred students last year from joining unrecognized fraternities and sororities.

Khurana distanced himself from the prospect of using Administrative Board sanctions to pressure the groups, but he would not say that administrators are not using them. The College is not “driven by notions of sanctions,” Khurana maintained, and does not wish to be autocratic with recommendations. Still, he said, “there is nothing off the table.”

Prompted in a follow-up question about the potential legal pushback the College could face if it followed Amherst’s example to bar students from joining unrecognized social clubs, Khurana closed off questions on the topic.

“I’m not going to talk anymore about it,” he said of the final clubs. “No comment, no comment, no comment.”

Khurana declined to comment on a series of questions, including the topics he plans to discuss with final club graduate board leaders at their upcoming meeting and his thoughts generally on the place of fraternities and sororities at the College.

Instead, Khurana repeatedly said that combating perceived exclusivity in final clubs and the College’s social scene is not the “biggest of [his] priorities.”

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