Computer Science professor and former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68, who filed the motion in August 2017, attended a meeting of the Faculty Council—the highest governing body of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—to briefly discuss his motion and take questions Wednesday morning. The motion states that Harvard College shall not “discipline, penalize, or otherwise sanction students” for joining “any lawful organization.” Classics Professor Richard F. Thomas, one of 21 professors who signed the motion, accompanied Lewis to the meeting.
“I thought it was a good and productive discussion,” Lewis said.
Lewis filed his motion over the summer after a faculty committee made an initial recommend to ban membership in undergraduate social groups. That recommendation, which is still subject to revision, is an expansion of an existing set of penalties in single-gender social groups. Starting with the Class of 2021, the existing policy bars members of single-gender social groups from holding club leadership positions or athletic team captaincies and from being recommended for certain post-graduate scholarships.
If Lewis’s motion passes in November, it will directly contradict both the original sanctions and the suggested social group ban.
Music professor Suzannah E. Clark, who co-chairs the committee that recommended the social group ban, also spoke at Wednesday’s Faculty Council meeting. Clark, accompanied by Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair, talked “a little” about the committee’s process, Howell said. In particular, Clark and O’Dair mentioned a July 2017 story in The Crimson reporting that just seven of the 27 faculty committee members voted in support of the proposed social group ban.
“That was a leak of information in July; they didn’t go into a lot of detail about that,” Howell said.
Until recently, the exact timeline for voting on Lewis’s motion was unclear. Lewis had requested that his motion appear on the docket of the October meeting.
But some professors initially thought that the motion might also come to a vote at the October meeting. By the rules of faculty procedure, new “substantive” motions cannot be both introduced and voted on in the same meeting. But there was some question as to whether Lewis was introducing a new motion or re-introducing a previous motion—also designed to kill the College’s sanctions—that he filed in May 2016.
Lewis withdrew that first motion in January 2017 after FAS Dean Michael D. Smith announced the creation of the faculty committee and tasked it with revising the penalties. According to Howell, because Lewis formally withdrew the motion, the most recent motion must be considered a new piece of legislation.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Lewis—who has long been a vocal critic of the sanctions—spoke for roughly 20 minutes and distributed a one-page handout that gave the text of his motion and summarized the reasons he believes the College’s social group policy must be abolished. In a bullet-point list, the former dean asserted the penalties encroach on students’ Constitutional right of free association and that undergraduates must be punished for “their acts, not their memberships.”
“It is time for the full Faculty to debate and decide the question of principle: should students ever be punished for joining private organizations?” reads the handout.
It is currently unclear what will happen if the Lewis motion passes. Additionally, Howell said there could be another avenue for the Faculty to voice opposition to or support for the social group sanctions—the College student handbook.
Howell said that if there is a change in policy “as momentous” as the one suggested by the committee’s interim report, that change will likely be included in the student handbook—which must ultimately be approved by the Faculty each May.
–Staff writer Mia C. Karr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @miackarr.
—Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson