Harvard’s social group sanctions, it seems, are here to stay.
After more than a year of faculty scrutiny, student protest, and administrative review of the College’s penalties on members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations, the Harvard Corporation voted in Dec. 2017 to keep the social group policy as is.
Introduced in May 2016, the policy bars members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations—starting with the Class of 2021—from holding leadership positions in student groups and athletic teams and from receiving College endorsement for certain postgraduate fellowships.
At the start of 2017, the policy’s fate was uncertain. After some professors charged faculty members were not properly consulted during the policy's formulation, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced the creation of a faculty committee in January with the power to “revise or replace” the penalties.
In June, that committee, led by Khurana and Music Professor Suzannah Clark, released an interim report recommending all social groups be “phased out by May 2022.” The committee claimed strong majority support for the proposal—but The Crimson reported in July that only seven members of the 27-member committee voted for this total ban.
Three months later, the committee published a final report walking back the proposed ban. Instead, the committee suggested three options: The original May 2016 policy, a complete ban of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations, or a set of “other possible solutions.”
Faust announced in December that the University would pick the first option and keep the 2016 policy—but the choice was not hers alone. The Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, waded into the debate with its vote for the sanctions. This atypical intervention in undergraduate social life is meant to ensure the penalties will stay in effect under Harvard’s next president, who takes office after Faust steps down in June 2018.
Over the past year, some professors argued the sanctions should fall under Faculty purview—former dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 even spearheaded two Faculty motions designed to kill the penalties, both of which ultimately failed in a major victory for administrators. The Corporation’s involvement, however, put a definitive end to the months-long debate over governance between the Faculty and the administration.
Though the policy was in limbo for much of the year, it still had an effect: At least six single-gender social organizations restructured and adopted co-ed membership practices following the May 2016 announcement. Other groups, though, remained defiant; the all-male Fox Club, for example, revoked membership from all women in July and reverted to its traditional single-gender status.
The content of the policy may be finally settled, but questions about its implementation and repercussions remain. In December, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith said it is still unclear whether the sanctions will be included in the next student handbook; changes to the handbook require Faculty approval.
Adding to the uncertainty, an amendment to a higher education bill currently making its way through Congress would bar universities—perhaps including Harvard—from implementing policies that ban membership in single-gender groups.