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Honor Council Members Weigh New Role Enforcing Social Group Penalties

By Graham W. Bishai and Hannah Natanson, Crimson Staff Writers

Members of the Honor Council are weighing how to take on their newly proposed role enforcing the College’s penalties on members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations, with some calling the added responsibility unwelcome.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana tasked the body with helping enforce the College’s penalties on Monday when he accepted the majority of recommendations from a wide-ranging report on the social group policy.

Khurana’s decision significantly expands the charge of the Council, which administrators created in the wake of a 2012 cheating scandal to hear cases concerning breaches of academic integrity. Some said they find the body’s new role unsettling.

“Frankly it’s hard enough having the responsibility to adjudicate cases of academic integrity, but expanding that to someone being in a final club just doesn’t fit with why I joined the Honor Council, what I believe it’s about,” said Council member Jake H. Hummer ’17.

Under the College’s policy, undergraduate members of single-gender social groups—starting with the Class of 2021—will be barred from receiving certain fellowships, from holding athletic captaincies, and from leading recognized student organizations.

But the policy may change—a faculty committee created last month will determine the final version of the College’s penalties and consider whether the policy should be “revised or replaced.” Khurana will serve as the co-chair of that committee.

College spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote in an emailed statement that the Council will be responsible for investigating members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations who violate the policy by applying to fellowships. Khurana declined to comment for this article beyond referring to Dane’s statement.

Brett Flehinger, the Associate Dean for Academic Integrity and Student Conduct who heads the Council, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. According to Council member Meg G. Panetta ’17, the council will release a statement on the subject after their next meeting.

“I know we are going to figure out what the implementation means for us, and then we will announce what we were doing,” Panetta said.

Matthew J. Vegari ’17, who served on the Council from 2014 to 2016, said he did not understand why Khurana asked the Council to help enforce the College’s penalties.

“I’m not certain in what respect that relates to the honor code and how it relates back to the principles behind why the Honor Council was created,” Vegari said. “I think it would just be using an existing, established governing body for a purpose that it was not initially created for.”

But Daniel V. Banks ’17, a member of the Council who also helped formulate the recommendations Khurana accepted, took a different view. He argued that the Council has a legitimate responsibility to investigate transgressions of the College’s policy.

“At its very basis what they will be enforcing is lying to the University, which is a breach of the Honor Code at Harvard,” Banks said. “So while I think the Honor Council itself wasn’t initially conceived to deal with cases such as this one, I do believe that it is under the purview of the honor code, and that institutions themselves change and evolve.”

Multiple students on the Council said they first learned the body will help enforce the social group policy when Khurana sent a College-wide email announcing the move Monday. Several members of the Council also served on the group—known as the implementation committee—that formulated the recommendations Khurana accepted Monday.

“I think when the report was released, it was kind of just unleashing a can of worms,” Vegari said.

Members of the committee that recommended the Council’s involvement in enforcing the social group policy said their suggestions were intended to guide, not dictate, the College’s approach to implementing its penalties. In an interview Monday, implementation committee co-chair Kay K. Shelemay emphasized that Khurana will ultimately decide how to enforce the College’s penalties.

“That’s one way to handle it,” Shelemay said, referring to the proposed involvement of the Council. “We’ve specifically tried not to prescribe, we can only recommend.”

Implementation committee member Timothy D. Haehl ’18 agreed with Shelemay, adding that the committee’s recommendations are far from complete.

“It was something just like talked about, considered—like maybe the Honor Council could be expanded,” Haehl said. “I think there’s still a lot of things that still need to be figured out.”

—Staff writer Graham W. Bishai can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GrahamBishai.

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

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