Five Threads to Know This Semester
The last few months have been anything but quiet for Harvard. As many students, faculty, and staff left campus, Harvard’s president announced she was stepping down, a committee recommended that social groups be “phased out,” and the Department of Justice opened an investigation into Harvard’s admissions process— news that could shape life at Harvard for decades.
Here’s a rundown of the biggest headlines from the summer, in case you missed it.
The Presidential Search
By next summer, a new university president could be sitting in the corner office of Massachusetts Hall.
On June 14, University President Drew G. Faust announced she would step down from the presidency after a decade-long tenure, setting off what is likely to be a comprehensive search process. Past Harvard presidential searches have lasted months and spanned the country as the search committee narrows down a longlist of potential candidates from a litany of backgrounds to just one.
This time around, the search committee will include all 12 members of an expanded Harvard Corporation, as well as three members of the Board of Overseers. William F. Lee ’72, the Corporation’s senior fellow, will lead the effort—and his public comments over the summer provided clues to what the body is looking for in a candidate. Some of the things he emphasized: centralizing Harvard’s administration, improving diversity, and leading the university forward in the age of President Donald Trump.
Lee sent an email in July soliciting input from Harvard affiliates through a designated email address. Students, meanwhile, called for an increased role in the search process; during the 2000 search, students voiced frustrations with being left out of it. Faculty and staff advisory committees have already been appointed, and the search committee is set to name a student advisory body soon.
Social Group Penalties Complicated
With a historic policy penalizing members of Harvard’s single-gender social groups set to take effect in the fall, the summer brought renewed faculty opposition and a committee report that threw the future of the policy into further flux.
The policy—which now applies to students in the Class of 2021—bars members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations from student leadership positions, athletic captaincies, and certain prestigious fellowships.
The policy has been engulfed in controversy since its announcement, with many students, alumni, and some faculty speaking out against it. Computer Science professor and former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 has emerged as the most vocal opponent of the sanctions, even introducing a faculty motion in May 2016 intended to cancel the penalties.
Amid opposition, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana in January announced a new committee charged with deciding whether the sanctions should be “revised or replaced.” In July, that faculty committee released a preliminary draft of its recommendations, proposing an all-out ban on Harvard’s social groups.
The preliminary report claimed a “strong majority” of the committee supported the decision to recommend banning social groups—but The Crimson reported in July 2017 that the social group ban received only seven votes from the 27-member committee, making it the third-most popular option considered.
A month later, Lewis filed a second motion against the College’s social group penalties. Twenty-one professors signed the document, which states that Harvard shall not “discipline, penalize, or otherwise sanction students” for joining “any lawful organization.”
Lewis’s motion is set for a vote at the October 3 Faculty meeting—the same meeting at which the faculty committee has said it will present its final recommendations regarding the social group policy.
Until then, members of the Class of 2021 remain subject to the penalties outlined in the original May 2016 policy.
Student Unionization Dispute
On July 7, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Harvard’s student unionization election, held in November 2016, had been unfair and should be invalidated. That election had counted more students voting against unionization than for it—but in his decision, John J. Walsh, Jr.
wrote that a list of eligible voters generated by Harvard before the election was inadequate and had “interfered with the employees’ exercise of a free and reasoned choice” in the vote.
Lawyers representing the University filed a brief with the national NLRB in August, urging the NLRB to let the results of the 2016 election stand and declaring past rulings requiring employers to comply with strict requirements for voter lists “outdated.”
The next step in the process is for the NLRB in Washington, D.C. to deliver a final ruling on the case.
The national NLRB is composed of presidential nominees, and at the end of former President Barack H. Obama’s time in office, the NLRB counted two Democrats, one Republican, and two empty spots. Since President Donald Trump took office—he has appointed two Republican nominees, Marvin Kaplan and William Emanuel— to fill those vacancies.
The Senate confirmed Kaplan earlier in August and has not yet voted on Emanuel’s confirmation. Some commentators have theorized that a NLRB with a Republican majority might be more likely to favor Harvard’s position in the case.
Department of Justice Investigating Admissions
The Justice Department turned up the heat in a longstanding debate over Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policies in August, when it publicly vowed to investigate allegations that Harvard has unfairly denied admission to qualified Asian-American applicants. A department spokesperson said at the time that the investigation will focus on a single complaint filed in 2015 by 64 Asian-American groups that claims the College’s admissions process “unlawful[ly]” uses race to discriminate against Asian Americans.
Harvard’s affirmative action policies have long been a lightning rod for opponents of race-conscious admissions. In 2014, the anti-affirmative action group Project for Fair Representation—led by conservative provocateur Edward Blum—filed a lawsuit against the University alleging that Harvard unlawfully discriminates specifically against Asian-American applicants in its undergraduate admissions processes. That lawsuit is currently in the discovery process.
Several legal experts predict the Justice Department’s investigation means the department is planning to join the 2014 lawsuit. These analysts say the department has several options going forward—but it will most likely file to intervene against Harvard.
If the department does get involved, it will have a heavy impact on the lawsuit, according to Roger Clegg, the president of the conservative think tank Center for Equal Opportunity.
“It would bring the resources of the Justice Department into the lawsuit, and also the weight and the credibility of the Justice Department, too,” Clegg said. “Judges tend to pay attention to what the Justice Department says.”
Changes in the Square
The summer saw the departure of at least two Harvard Square gustatory mainstays, with more changes planned for the year to come. Out: Japanese noodles, pricey smoothies, and teriyaki burritos. In: raw fish, Australian burritos, and one controversial luxury mall.
Each citing competition for clientele in a crowded square, Boston-born burrito chain Boloco and London-based Japanese noodle chain Wagamama shuttered over the summer. After nearly two decades on Mount Auburn St., Boloco—which peddles “globally inspired burritos”—closed to make way for Zambrero, an Australian burrito chain gives to charity with every purchase. Wagamama shut down in early July upon the end of its ten-year lease, and the property remains vacant.
Pokéworks, a Hawaiian-inspired seafood chain, will replace juice and smoothie vendor Liquiteria on Mass Ave. this fall. The restaurant specializes in “tuna, salmon, and other fish or tofu bases mixed with toppings and sauces in a rice bowl, salad bowl, or poké ‘burrito.’”
As Pokéworks breezed through the zoning process, Washington, D.C.-based chain &pizza; continued its quest for a Square storefront, partnering with the dessert bakery Milk Bar to at last obtain initial approval from the Cambridge Planning Board. While the Board of Zoning Appeals had previously denied &pizza;’s solo plans to move into the Brattle Street location—“a pizza is a pizza is a pizza,” one member said—the new partnership meets the requirements put forth after the initial rejection. The zoning board still must approve the changes to &pizza;’s business plan.
Even further down the road, the Cambridge Historical Commission approved plans to create a pedestrian mall in the center of Harvard Square after months of meetings and community debate. The “Collection at Harvard Square” calls for renovations and additions to the series of storefront buildings on either side of the Curious George store, including the demolition of the Urban Outfitters building and replacement with a four-story building. The top of the buildings would then be connected with a rooftop pavilion. The proposed developments—still quite controversial among many residents—will be reviewed by the Planning Board before going forward further.
—Staff writers Caroline E. Engelmayer, Mia C. Karr, Hannah Natanson, Claire E. Parker, Alison W. Steinbach, Katherine E. Wang, Derek G. Xiao, and Leah S. Yared contributed reporting.