Harvard’s historic penalties on members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations could be subject to change after consultation with faculty members, University President Drew G. Faust said in an interview Thursday.
“I think this is a time for conversation about what alternatives there are,” Faust said about the sanctions. “If people want to propose alternatives, that ought to be a matter for discussion in the Faculty meeting.”
The policy—which, starting with the Class of 2021, will prohibit members of single-gender social organizations from holding student leadership positions, becoming captains of varsity teams, and receiving College endorsement for fellowships—was the product of months of work and closed-door meetings with final club leaders and College administrators. While many Harvard affiliates—including coaches, professors, and members of the Harvard Corporation—have praised the new policy, hundreds of students, faculty, and former administrators have publicly criticized the decision.
In particular, former Dean of the College and Computer Science professor Harry R. Lewis ’68 has spearheaded the faculty movement against the sanctions, contending at a Faculty meeting last Tuesday that the policy was “creating a blacklist” of students who chose to associate with single-gender clubs. Lewis introduced a motion condemning the penalties at the packed meeting and called for a Faculty vote in December on the topic.
When directly questioned at the Faculty meeting last Tuesday, Faust did not specify what a vote for Lewis’s motion could accomplish or how Faculty input could influence or change the policy. In the interview Thursday, Faust said the next meeting in December would be an opportunity for concerned professors to propose alternatives to the controversial policy. While the exact solution may be flexible, Faust said any policy would need to address the “problem”—the rising influence of single-sex social organizations on campus.
“The way I talk about is I say, ‘here’s the problem, and now how do we figure out the solution,’” Faust said. “I’ve never said that this policy is a perfect instrument,” she continued, citing alcohol abuse, sexual assault, and exclusion as three issues a policy would aim to address.
“[The policy] was meant more to marginalize the power, the social power of these groups. To undermine the kinds of circumstances that lead women to line up outside of clubs on Friday nights hoping to be chosen on the basis of their outfits, appearance, whatever,” Faust said. “We designed an answer that seemed to be the best option.”
Still, she would “welcome the Faculty’s participation” in crafting a policy that best addresses the issues posed by single-gender clubs, Faust said.
“So this is a problem that we’re going to solve, and we’re going to figure out the way to solve it, and that's where I will direct the Faculty to go,” she said.
None of the arguments faculty members voiced at the meeting swayed Faust, and she offered rebuttals to several critiques of the policy brought by professors at the Faculty meeting during the interview Thursday.
Faust said Lewis’s motion does not actually address the single-gender social organization policy, but instead focuses more broadly on principles of discrimination and association.
To Government professor Eric M. Nelson ’99—who expressed frustration that Faculty members were not consulted before the policy was rolled out—Faust responded that, to her understanding, the Faculty has not traditionally been involved in shaping undergraduate life and played little role in decisions like the derecognition of the final clubs in the 1980s and the randomization of House assignments in the late 1990s.
Responding to the prevalent critique that the penalties infringe on students’ freedom of association, Faust countered that all-male organizations restrict women’s liberties.
“My freedom of association to join the Porcellian does not exist, just to start with,” she said, referencing Harvard’s oldest final club.
Moreover, Faust said, the “freedom of association” argument has historically been used to defend discriminatory organizations and policies.
“Freedom of association is a concept that was used widely in the white South to combat Brown v. Board, to combat the Civil Rights Act. It’s an argument that has been used to sustain and support discrimination,” she said. “It gives me chills to see it used in this instance as a defense of what I see as exclusionary policies on the part of organizations in the College.”
The earliest date at which the Lewis’s motion could go to vote is at the next Faculty meeting in December.
—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.
—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.