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Faculty Draft Motion Against Final Club Sanctions

By C. Ramsey Fahs

UPDATED: May 25, 2016, at 3:51 p.m.

Twelve professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences submitted a motion Monday resolving that “Harvard College shall not discriminate against students on the basis of organizations they join,” a proposal that if passed would stand in opposition to the College's sanctions against students involved in final clubs or Greek life.

The professors argued that the College should not penalize students for their involvement in “political parties with which they affiliate, nor social, political or other affinity groups they join, as long as those organizations, parties, or groups have not been judged to be illegal.”

The motion comes in the wake of recently announced sanctions against unrecognized single-gender social organizations, which have drawn widespread criticism from members of those groups, national media outlets, and former top Harvard administrators. Starting with the Class of 2021, undergraduate members of such groups—including male and female final clubs as well as sororities and fraternities—will be ineligible for leadership posts in recognized clubs and Harvard endorsement for top fellowships like the Rhodes.

University Hall.
University Hall. By Vimal S. Konduri

The motion, a copy of which was obtained by The Crimson, marks the most vocal faculty opposition to the new sanctions to date. Faculty who signed the draft motion argued that the College has historically avoided regulating undergraduate participation in organizations that are not Harvard-affiliated, despite setting some rules for student behavior.

“Students may exercise their civil right to free assembly without fear that Harvard will disadvantage them because they have joined an organization that does not comply with Harvard policies,” the group of 12 professors—which includes a former Dean of the College and prominent faculty in the Psychology and Computer Science Departments—wrote.

Referencing 1992 Faculty legislation on ROTC, the motion argued that the precedent of avoiding extending Harvard’s non-discrimination policies “beyond its proper boundaries” should be clarified.

“These ‘proper boundaries’ were not specified in the 1992 legislation, probably because they went without saying. Recent administrative proposals suggest that there is uncertainty about the limits of Harvard’s control over students’ lives,” they wrote. “We therefore believe that this legislation, based on University precedent, history, and practice, is needed to protect the rights of current and future students—and, indeed, by extension, the rights of current and future faculty and staff.”

Since Khurana announced the sanctions, a host of top administrators, including University President Drew G. Faust, Harvard Corporation senior fellow William F. Lee ’72, and Corporation treasurer Paul J. Finnegan ’75 have defended the new policy as a step towards eliminating gender discrimination on campus.

Still, others have been more skeptical. The draft motion is not the first time Harvard faculty have castigated the new sanctions on final clubs and Greek life. Former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 recently wrote a private letter to Khurana sharply critiquing the sanctions as a bridge too far in attempting to rein in the clubs, though he wrote he found some of the clubs “noxious.” Lewis is also a signatory of the draft motion.

A committee of faculty, administrators, and students will work out the extensive logistics of how the College will enforce the sanctions. It is unclear whether the sanctions will require a change in the student handbook; the FAS Faculty must approve any changes to the student handbook each year.

Although the motion does not explicitly mention the new policy, Government professor Eric M. Nelson ’99, one of the motion’s signatories, wrote in an email that “The alarming implications of this new policy extend well beyond the issue of final clubs.”

“It should seem obvious that any such policy would pose a grave threat to academic freedom,” Nelson added.

Classics professor Richard F. Thomas, one of the 12 professors who signed on to the motion, said in an interview that “obviously there’s a difference in approach between the resolution and the other matter.”

Thomas declined to comment specifically on the sanctions or which of the 12 professors originally decided to write the motion.

James Sidanius and Daniel E. Lieberman, both professors on Faculty Council, the body that sets the agenda for each of the monthly Faculty meetings, said earlier this month they had not been briefed on the new policy ahead of its announcement.

College spokesperson Rachael Dane did not specify earlier this month whether the Faculty Council had been briefed on the sanction, but wrote in an email that “the College developed these recommendations with careful deliberation.”

Biology professor Richard M. Losick, one of the motion’s signatories, said that although he had discussed the sanctions informally with colleagues since the announcement, he was not aware that administrators consulted faculty on the policy. Losick added that he was “no fan” of final clubs, but worried that administrators’s actions represented a threat to the “fundamental right of freedom of association.”

“The action from the Dean and approved by the President was taken without consultation with the Faculty,” Losick said, adding that he found it “disappointing that there was not an opportunity for it to be discussed among the faculty before such new procedures were put into place.”

FAS Spokesperson Anna Cowenhoven wrote in an email that the motion “will be brought to the attention”of the Docket Committee when they next meet this fall.

Khurana declined to comment for this story.

—Check for more updates.

—Staff writer C. Ramsey Fahs can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ramseyfahs.

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