The College’s penalties for members of single-gender social organizations could be “revised or replaced” by a committee tasked with improving them—opening up the historic policy to faculty input after some professors criticized the way it was initially crafted.
The committee—comprised of faculty, students, and staff—will study “whether the policy can be improved, either by changing aspects of its existing structure or through some broader revision,” Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana wrote in an email to Harvard students Wednesday. The committee will aim to control the “problematic impact” of single-gender social organizations on campus and will present its recommendations in the fall of 2017.
Slated to go into effect for the Class of 2021, the current policy bars members of single-gender social organizations, including fraternities, sororities, and final clubs, from receiving College endorsement for post-graduate fellowships and holding leadership positions in student organizations.
According to Khurana’s email, the committee will submit final recommendations to Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith, and University President Drew G. Faust will grant final approval for the potentially-reworked policy.
Faust said in an interview Wednesday that she is open to any option that achieves what she said is a goal of “non-discrimination.”
“If there’s another one that gets us there that’s legal, that’s operational, that could be implemented—if there’s a better idea I welcome it,” Faust said.
Khurana’s announcement affords faculty—some of whom have been critical of both the sanctions and the perceived lack of faculty involvement in designing them—an opportunity to alter a policy Khurana and College administrators spent over a year crafting behind closed doors.
“The faculty play a critical role in our decision making and I really welcome their interest,” Khurana said in an interview Wednesday.
Faculty have debated the merits of the policy and the process of its creation for months. An intense debate within FAS over the College’s policy came to a head at a December Faculty meeting, when professors discussed a motion submitted by former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 in opposition to the sanctions.
At those discussions, some professors charged that administrators had not allowed faculty to have input in the historic policy. Smith called the criticisms “categorically false” in a December interview. Others at December’s meeting—which ended abruptly, postponing any potential vote on Lewis’s motion until Feb. 7’s meeting—voiced support for the policy.
Faust said she had not expected professors to want to play such a role in the student life policy change and welcomes their input going forward.
“We didn’t anticipate this level of faculty interest when we started working on the policy last year,” Faust said in an interview. “We had sort of thought of it as a student life issue that came historically under the purview of the Dean [of the College].”
Khurana said Lewis’s motion and the surrounding debate among faculty members has shaped the campus debate about the sanctions.
“I think obviously the Lewis motion catalysed a conversation and discussion on campus, among students and faculty, about how best to address the challenges and the problems that the USGSO present to Harvard College and our commitment to creating an equitable and inclusive environment,” Khurana said in an interview.
Khurana said that Smith will determine the size of the committee, select members to serve on it, and receive its final recommendations early in the fall 2017 semester.
“We will also ensure that the Faculty has the opportunity to comment on the committee’s report before any recommendations are conveyed to President Faust,” Khurana wrote in his email to students.
Faust will be kept informed of the committee’s deliberations, and will hold approval of any policy the committee submits to her.
“I hope that, and trust that, during the process things that might concern me would be communicated during the process,” Faust said. “Ultimately, I want to be able to ensure that this policy is not going to get us sued instantly, is legal, is something that the governing boards feel is acceptable to implement.”
Khurana also added that the committee would look to peer institutions for alternative solutions they had tried that could help shape Harvard’s policy.
“As we’ve said many times that different institutions, higher education institutions, have approached the issue of single gender social organizations on their campus in different ways. I think it’s important that we always inform ourselves of the wide range of possibilities that exist,” Khurana said.
When formed, the faculty committee will work alongside a separate committee tasked with formulating an implementation plan for the current policy. That committee is currently working on a report recommending how to enforce the policy.
“I think for the new committee, they can build off the deep and careful work that [the implementation committee has] done,” Khurana said.
—Staff writers Hannah Natanson and Derek G. Xiao contributed reporting.
—Staff writer Graham W. Bishai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GrahamBishai.
—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.
—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LeahYared.