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News Analysis: As Faculty Return to Campus, Future of Lewis Motion Uncertain

University Hall.
University Hall. By Charles K. Michael
By Joshua J. Florence and Mia C. Karr, Crimson Staff Writers

As the first class of students subject to a College policy penalizing members of social clubs arrives on campus, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is gearing up for a semester of meetings likely to be dominated by debate over the policy’s future.

As it currently stands, the controversial policy prohibits College students—starting with the class of 2021—who are members of a final club or Greek organization from holding certain club leadership positions or athletic team captaincies or being recommended for certain postgraduate fellowships. But a July report by a committee of faculty, staff, and students tasked with reexamining the policy recommended a more drastic option—phasing the groups out entirely.

Following the July report, former Dean of the College and outspoken critic of the policy Harry R. Lewis ’68 re-introduced a faculty motion signed by 21 professors and stating that Harvard College shall not “discipline, penalize, or otherwise sanction students” for joining “any lawful organization.”

Getting to a full Faculty vote has the potential to be a lengthy process: According to Faculty Council member and professor David L. Howell, it is likely that Lewis’s motion will not go to a vote until the December Faculty meeting. Per Faculty meeting rules, any “substantive” motions must be reviewed by the Docket Committee, which sets the agenda for each meeting. Once approved, motions traditionally come before the Faculty for the first time—but only for debate. Motions are then eligible to be voted on at subsequent meetings by eligible Faculty members.

The Faculty will convene for the first time on October 3, meaning that—so long as typical procedures are followed—the earliest opportunity professors will have to vote on Lewis’s motion is the November 7 meeting.

However, Howell predicted that Lewis’s motion would be introduced at the November meeting, because the Faculty Council has not had a chance to discuss the motion. The Faculty Council—FAS’s highest elected body—traditionally reviews motions and, at times, talks with their sponsors before they are presented to the full body.

The 18-member Faculty Council met for the first time on August 30 and did not discuss Lewis’ motion, though Howell said that they may discuss the motion at their next meeting on September 13.

While Faculty meetings are rarely attended by a majority of FAS, the sanctions debate has proven to be a draw for many professors. During last year’s open discussions—which spanned the Nov. 2016 meeting, when the motion was first introduced, and the December meeting, where a vote was postponed after discussion ran over time—some Faculty members had to stand outside or sit on the floor.

Some professors who are on leave from the University for the semester, including Psychology professor Steven Pinker, Biology professor David Haig and Computer Science professor Michael D. Mitzenmacher, told The Crimson that they will return to Harvard to cast their votes in favor of Lewis’s motion.

In the meantime, Faculty members have been actively debating the policy in an online forum created earlier this summer.

A repeat of tense debates over the future of Harvard social life has the potential to postpone other pressing legislative items for the Faculty, including a revamped quantitative reasoning requirement in the new general education program. The new general education requirement must be approved before the 2018-2019 school year.

“My guess would be that it will be another exciting year of Faculty meetings,” Howell said.

—Staff writer Joshua J. Florence can be reached at joshua.florence@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.

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FASGen EdFacultyFinal ClubsFaculty NewsFront Middle Feature

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