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Sanctions Vote A Sigh of Relief for Administrators

What some consider to be Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana's signature initiative is safe.
What some consider to be Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana's signature initiative is safe. By Jean Paul Valencia

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana can breathe a sigh of relief.

After more than a year of uncertainty about the future of the College's penalties on single-gender social organizations, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted down a motion meant to cancel the social life penalties.

The policy’s future was in jeopardy almost from the start. Weeks after the sanctions’ May 2016 debut, former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 introduced Faculty legislation intended to kill them. Lewis’s motion has dogged College administrators ever since.

Lewis spent 18 months pillorying the penalties and seeking support for his motion, holding forth at faculty meetings, in public debates, and on his personal blog. He framed the debate as an historic struggle for the University’s soul. Before the vote Tuesday, one of his supporters compared the sanctions to McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, and the invasion of Afghanistan.

But after an hour of impassioned speeches, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted to quash Lewis’s motion by a margin of 130 to 90.

For now at least, what some consider Khurana’s signature initiative as dean is safe.

University President Drew G. Faust first announced the College’s social life penalties—which, starting with the Class of 2021, bar members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations from campus leadership positions, athletic team captaincies, and certain fellowships—in May 2016. Since then, Khurana—who helped formulate the sanctions—has largely become the face of the effort on campus.

Speaking shortly after the vote Tuesday evening, Khurana did not directly answer a question asking how he felt about the result. He said he plans to partner with undergraduates to make the College a more inclusive place.

“I’m really grateful to my colleagues for all of us enriching and engaging on a deep and complex subject,” Khurana said. “I look forward to working with our students to creating the kind of inclusive environment that they all aspire to.”

David L. Howell, a professor of Japanese history, wrote in an emailed statement he is glad the faculty struck down the motion.

“I’m relieved that the Lewis motion failed,” Howell said. “I understand and appreciate many of the concerns its supporters had about the USGSO policy, but a blanket statement like the Lewis motion wasn’t the best mechanism to resolve the issues.”

But for those on the opposite side, Tuesday evening spelled defeat and disappointment.

“This doesn’t make sense,” long-time sanctions opponent and English professor Helen Vendler said after the vote. Vendler, an outspoken critic of the sanctions, previously called the administration’s tactics “loathsome.”

Math professor Wilfried Schmid said he thinks the decision to vote down the motion was a “huge mistake.”

“I must say I’m as much disappointed in my colleagues as I am in the motion failing,” Schmid said.

Though Lewis’s motion failed, Harvard’s final club policy could still change. Before the end of her tenure in June, Faust will choose either to keep the current policy, ban all single-gender social groups, or select from a set of alternatives. Eric M. Nelson, a Government professor, wrote in an email that he hopes Faculty support for the Lewis motion will influence the administration’s decision.

“I’m immensely grateful to the 90 faculty colleagues who supported the motion, and to Professor Lewis for his remarkable courage and perseverance,” he wrote. “I hope that the administration will take seriously the fact that such a large proportion of the Faculty is now on record as opposing their general approach to this issue.”

Khurana’s supporters had a different suggestion for the dean. As Khurana left the room Tuesday evening, friends and colleagues clapped him on the back, offering congratulations and recommending the Dean fix himself a drink.

“Have a gin,” said one.

“Have a whiskey,” shouted another.

—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.

—Staff writer Madeleine Nakada can be reached at

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