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Ahead of a contentious Faculty meeting, College administrators and computer science professor Harry R. Lewis ’68 have circulated documents to lobby faculty members with their respective arguments about historic penalties against members of single-gender social organizations.
The two "Frequently Asked Questions" documents, which were emailed to Faculty along with the agenda for Tuesday’s monthly meeting, raise pointed questions about the place of final clubs, sororities, and fraternities at Harvard and the role of faculty members in shaping undergraduate social life. At the meeting, the Faculty will vote on a motion arguing that Harvard should not penalize students for their involvement in Greek life or final clubs.
Last May, after a year of meeting with final club leaders behind closed doors, Harvard administrators announced a unprecedented policy barring members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations, starting with the Class of 2021, from becoming captains of varsity teams, holding leadership positions in recognized student groups, or receiving College-endorsement for top fellowships.
Responding to the policy, Lewis and 11 other professors in May crafted the motion, which resolves that “Harvard College shall not discriminate against students on the basis of organizations they join.”
It is unclear if the motion, which does not explicitly mention the policy, would have the power to overturn the sanctions—though the motion’s supporters believe so.
In his FAQ document, titled “Further Q&A in support of the Nondiscrimination Motion,” Lewis responded to the question “Isn’t voting for this motion going to be taken as an endorsement of the final clubs?” He wrote that the motion is not an affirmation of the unrecognized groups.
“To oppose the motion because favoring it will be interpreted as favoring clubs we despise is like opposing the First Amendment because favoring it may be interpreted as being in favor of flag-burning,” Lewis wrote. “We can be in favor of the motion and in favor of the First Amendment without being in favor of the final clubs and flag-burning.”
The College administrators’ FAQ document focuses on the issues of exclusivity, discrimination, and sexual assault associated with the unrecognized social groups. The document also includes a list outlining the groups that currently exist, how many students are members, and where are they located.
College spokesperson Rachael Dane confirmed that College administrators wrote the College's FAQ document, but declined to name specific authors.
In their FAQ, administrators also criticize the unrecognized single-gender organizations for promoting “aggressively discriminatory practices.” They also argue that “it is past time” to curb the influence of such organizations at Harvard, given several analyses and reports about final clubs created over the past two decades.
“Given this context, the College has come to the judgment that it cannot continue business as usual while these organizations proliferate and the real consequences for student social life and the overall student experience become more acute,” the administrators’ document reads.
The document also includes a list of unrecognized social organizations on campus—seven all-male final clubs, the co-ed Spee Club, five all-female final clubs, and nine sororities and fraternities—and estimates that 25 to 30 percent of undergraduates belong to unrecognized single-gender social organizations. While the College’s concerns have “historically been about the behavior and practices of male clubs,” the document reads, both male and female organizations “exclude on the basis of gender” and are inconsistent “with the Faculty’s long-held view that the College should not become a Greek school.”
While the administrators’ FAQ indicates that the policy will not “fully solve the problems of exclusivity and student safety,” the document’s authors write that “the policy was adopted with the expectation that it is an important step toward improving culture.”
In his FAQ document, Lewis criticizes administrators for not informing or working with the Faculty before announcing the sanctions.
“Policies about single-gender organizations should be worked out cooperatively by faculty, students and the university administration,” Lewis wrote. “It is, however, not shared governance for the president and dean to announce policies and then share merely the implementation details with the Faculty.”
It remains unclear whether the faculty motion could have the power to modify or override the sanctions. While top administrators, including University President Drew G. Faust and senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation William F. Lee ’72, have said the policy will not be nullified, Lewis wrote in his FAQ document that the policy falls under the Faculty’s jurisdiction.
Responding to the question “Why didn’t you just make a motion against the policy?” Lewis wrote that he believes the Faculty is not sufficiently informed to legislate on undergraduate social life.
Last month, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith sent the Faculty a PDF that contained five years of candid undergraduate survey responses which used the words “final club,” “sorority,” or “fraternity.” Smith wrote that the Faculty may use the information to “further inform” their upcoming vote on the motion.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Dean for Faculty Affairs and Planning Nina Zipser will present a report on “faculty trends,” according to the meeting agenda. In addition, the Faculty will vote to approve the list of summer school courses for 2017.
—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.
—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.
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