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The creation of a historic policy penalizing members of final clubs and Greek organizations without full Faculty consultation has prompted some professors to question administrators’ dedication to shared governance on major decisions about undergraduate social life.
During a contentious Faculty meeting Tuesday that adjourned without an expected vote on a motion against Harvard’s unprecedented social life policy, professors offered impassioned remarks about the lack of input members of the Faculty had in shaping the sanctions.
“The manner in which this policy was generated avoided coming to this Faculty,” English professor James Engell said. “It avoided discussion in the Faculty room. It avoided any Faculty vote. It avoided open voicing of Faculty dues consistent with past shared governance, especially regarding administration and discipline.”
In May, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced the historic policy that, starting with the Class of 2021, prohibits members of the unrecognized single gender organizations from holding leadership positions in recognized student groups, becoming varsity captains, or receiving College endorsement for fellowships. Administrators created the policy after a year of tense, behind-closed-doors meetings with leaders of single gender social organizations, primarily final clubs.
After the announcement of the policy, former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 and other 11 professors crafted the motion opposing it, writing that “Harvard College shall not discriminate against students on the basis of organizations they join.”
Faculty vote to approve changes to the student handbook, such as a new alcohol policy crafted in 2012 and the update of the College's gender neutral housing policy. As it stands now, the College’s policy on unrecognized single gender social organizations has not followed that procedure and is not included in the handbook.
During Tuesday’s meeting, which largely focused on the motion, Lewis said administrators’ announcement of the policy was an “alarm that went off.”
Although the full Faculty was slated to vote on Lewis’s motion Tuesday, discussion of the motion—and of the recommendation by the Faculty Council, FAS’s highest elected body, to postpone the motion indefinitely—has been tabled until the next full meeting of the Faculty in February.
Though some professors were critical of the policy itself, several other professors who spoke at the meeting affirmed their support for the College’s attempts to rectify a campus social climate they described as discriminatory and exclusionary.
In an interview last month, University President Drew G. Faust said administrators designed the policy to check the power that unrecognized single gender social organizations hold on campus. Faust also said she would “welcome the Faculty’s participation” in crafting a policy that best addresses the issues posed by single-gender clubs.
After Tuesday’s meeting adjourned, several professors echoed Engell’s critiques of administrative decisions, citing an absence of Faculty involvement in discussing and crafting sanctions.
University Professor Helen H. Vendler said she believed administrators have avoided addressing the role that the Faculty play in student discipline.
“I find the tactics of the administration loathsome, and I mean to have that word quoted,” Vendler said, adding that she had planned to present her views on their infringement of Faculty rights, including the responsibility to nominate fellowship candidates, had the meeting not been adjourned. “Never, in my 60 years of teaching, have I ever had the right to recommend a student taken away from me.”
In an interview after the meeting, mathematics professor Wilfried Schmid criticized the decision to postpone of the remaining discussion until the spring.
“Well, what can I say? I personally think that it was an attempt to stifle the discussion,” Schmid said. “It’s more faculty members being able to speak about the motion. That’s not going to be accomplished by keeping the meetings short.”
Docket committee member David L. Howell said at the meeting that “it was important” to postpone the discussion and accommodate faculty members with children or other family responsibilities.
History professor James T. Kloppenberg, who said he hoped to speak at the meeting, said he planned to vote to postpone Lewis’s motion indefinitely. He said Faculty members who want to voice their opinions on undergraduate social life should work with a committee charged with recommending how to implement the College’s policy.
That committee—comprised of undergraduates, 37 professors from across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Harvard administrators—was finalized earlier this fall.
“I do that because I care about, almost as passionately about, Faculty governance as Jim Engell does, but I think the thing for Faculty to do is to postpone this debate, and anyone who’s concerned should join the implementation committee,” Kloppenberg said, adding he thinks the Faculty generally share the opinion that the exclusionary clubs are detrimental to undergraduate social life.
—Staff writers Graham W. Bishai, Julia E. DeBenedictis, C. Ramsey Fahs, Daphne C. Thompson, and Derek G. Xiao contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.
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