Former College Dean Blasts Social Group Policy Report

Professor Harry Lewis
Former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 has been a harsh critic of the College's approach to undergraduate social life.
Former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 disparaged recently released recommendations for enforcing the College's penalties on single-gender social groups in a blog post Wednesday, calling some of the suggestions "quite repellent."

Lewis took issue with the final report of a committee tasked with recommending how to implement the College’s penalties, in particular arguing that suggesting that the Honor Council to enforce the policy goes against the “legislation that created that Council.” He added he believes “the College cannot, without a Faculty vote, punish students for lying about their club membership.”

“If I were a student who was punished on the basis of an illegitimate assumption of authority by the Honor Council, I would hire a lawyer,” Lewis wrote.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, who accepted nearly all of the report’s recommendations Monday, wrote in an emailed statement Thursday that he had not yet read Lewis’s blog post, but planned to do so.

Some members of the Council have also said they find the proposed expansion of their role concerning. Council member Meg G. Panetta ’17 said the Council plans to release a public statement on the subject after their next meeting.


Under the College’s policy, undergraduate members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations—starting with the Class of 2021—will be barred from certain leadership positions, athletic captaincies, and fellowships. But the policy may change; a faculty committee, created in January and co-chaired by Khurana, will determine the final version of the College’s penalties.

Lewis has been one of the policy’s most vocal opponents. Last fall, Lewis led a group of faculty members opposed to the penalties in an effort to pass faculty legislation barring their enactment. He withdrew that motion after Khurana announced the creation of the faculty committee that could “revise or replace the sanctions,” but Lewis wrote he would reintroduce the motion if he felt the policy was not adequately revised.

According to College spokesperson Rachael Dane, Khurana will enforce the penalties through two different methods. The Honor Council will investigate cases in which members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations who apply to fellowships, while Khurana plans to use a similar “trust-based system” to discipline members who violate the policy by holding leadership roles in recognized student groups.

The implementation committee’s 46-page report provides a broad plan for how to enforce the College’s penalties, in particular calling for the creation of a new category of recognized social groups on campus and expanding the number of fellowships barred to members of single-gender social organizations. Khurana emailed the report to the student body Monday.

In his blog post, Lewis also criticized the report for misunderstanding the “sociology” of Harvard’s fraternities and sororities and for employing what he called an arbitrary standard to determine which social groups would be subject to the policy.

He added he found the language of the report “patronizing” and “easy to ridicule.”

“I had particular fun imagining the scenario of Appendix H, where we were asked to envision readings of Chaucer in the dining halls as a welcoming, gender-inclusive form of social life,” Lewis wrote, referring to the report’s suggestion that student “dining societies” could gather in dining halls and read Chaucer aloud together in lieu of joining final clubs.

Many Harvard students have also taken note of that particular recommendation. Over the past few days, a student-run Facebook group called “Harvard Memes for Elitist 1% Tweens” has exploded with posts satirizing the idea.

One post in the group features a photoshopped picture of Khurana eating “New England Clam Chaucer,” while another depicts Khurana dancing to lyrics from Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue.”

Still another features side-by-side portraits of Chaucer and Khurana and asks students to “name a more iconic duo.”

—Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.

—Staff writer Derek G. Xiao can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @derekgxiao