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With the future of Harvard’s final clubs uncertain, University President Drew G. Faust again criticized the organizations on Wednesday, calling the “fundamental issue” one of “exclusion and discrimination.”
“There’s a sense that [final clubs] are not available to certain groups of the student body not because of any virtue or accomplishment or achievement on the part of those excluded, but rather because they haven’t had the good fortune to have had certain experiences or origins or genders,” Faust said.
During the past year, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and other administrators have challenged the role of Harvard’s historically all-male and unrecognized final clubs—though there are now some co-ed clubs and clubs comprised entirely of women—in undergraduate life. Earlier this semester, a University-wide task force dedicated to sexual assault prevention released a report castigating the clubs for their disproportionate association with sexual assaults and their “deeply misogynistic” nature.
In particular, the report stated that 47 percent of undergraduate senior women involved in final club activities experienced unwanted sexual conduct during their College career, compared to 31 percent of all female seniors.
Faust articulated criticisms of the clubs beyond their connection to sexual assault on campus, denouncing what she called exclusionary admissions practices. She said final clubs would not qualify for recognition by the College because their membership criteria were not based on measurable talents or abilities.
“To be a recognized organization you have to have a membership that can be based on merit,” Faust said. “It shouldn’t be based on accidents of birth.”
In the past, some students have criticized College administrators for recognizing certain groups that hold competitive comp processes, have largely social functions, and maintain single-gender membership. The Undergraduate Council recently began discussions about whether it should have a role in overseeing comp processes.
Faust said the final clubs’ long history and disproportionate influence on campus social life were particularly alarming, even compared to other similar types of social groups, like fraternities.
“The final clubs have had a focus of concern because they do have a status and an influence on campus that is long-lived… and powerful,” Faust said.
The University task force report also called on Khurana to formulate a plan for the clubs’ future by the end of the semester. Though Faust said the plan was still evolving and did not discuss any details, Khurana has considered potentially barring students in final clubs from receiving fellowships or holding leadership positions such as team captaincies.
As the College has increasingly cracked down on the final clubs, recently, some final club leaders have become outspoken in their criticisms of Harvard.
Last week, the graduate president of the Fly Club called on Khurana to “recuse himself from further discussion” about the clubs and demanded more information about Harvard’s plans for the single-gender organizations. On Wednesday, Faust said Khurana was still formulating his plans and disputed the Fly Club’s characterization of Khurana’s actions.
“I don’t think Dean Khurana has been hiding anything. I think he’s been talking with people in the course of the year in order to develop an approach,” Faust said. “It’s been a matter of interchange rather than he’s been sitting there hiding the ball.”
The 225-year-old Porcellian Club also made a rare public statement condemning Harvard for its approach to the clubs. It also commissioned a statistical rebuttal to the task force report that argued that the survey’s methodology was flawed and its conclusions unsubstantiated. The analysis, conducted by statistical firm Welch Consulting employee Jora B. Stixrud, argued that Harvard conflated correlation with causation with regards to the clubs’ association with sexual assault.
Faust criticized the analysis and said the sexual assault task force report is just one of several sources informing Harvard’s approach to the clubs.
“I think we were pretty clear about a very fundamental reality in statistics which is very rare that you show causation, you show correlation and correlation alerts you to realities that bear further inquiry and consideration,” she said. “That’s very much the attitude that I think was expressed in the analysis of the task force report.”
And on Wednesday, graduate members of the Sablière Society, an all-female organization, charged in a Crimson op-ed that Harvard has left women out of the conversation about the future of the clubs. The graduate leaders argued that Harvard could endanger the existence of the female organizations should it push the all-male clubs to accept women as members.
“I’m sorry they feel that they haven’t had enough voice,” Faust said. “I hope that they come to feel that their concerns and their, I think, different status and different roles on the campus will be attended to as we move forward.”
In his comments last month, Charles M. Storey ’82, the former graduate board president of the Porcellian, said the club’s membership “reflects the diversity of the male population of Harvard College.” While Faust acknowledged that the clubs may count some students of various socioeconomic and racial backgrounds among their ranks, she maintained that their memberships are unlikely to be representative of the student body.
“It’s interesting that their membership lists aren’t public,” Faust said.
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