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Faculty Committee Offers Alternatives to Social Group Ban in Final Report

The Fly Club.
The Fly Club. By Savannah I. Whaley
By Joshua J. Florence, Mia C. Karr, and Hannah Natanson, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: September 29, 2017 at 4:05 p.m.

The committee that recommended Harvard ban membership in social groups this summer watered down its initial proposal in its final report Friday, instead suggesting that the University consider the ban on as one of multiple ways to reshape social life at the College.

In its final report, the committee suggested three separate paths forward for Harvard undergraduate social life: maintain the current penalties on membership in single-gender social groups, ban membership altogether in unrecognized single-gender social groups, or consider a set of “some other possible solutions.”

Gone from the committee’s report is a recommendation to ban membership in both coeducational and single-gender groups. The committee now suggests Harvard consider banning membership in single-gender groups that the College does not recognize.

The report is a revision of a preliminary draft the committee released this summer, when it first recommended that “fraternities, sororities, and similar organizations” be “phased out” by May 2022. That recommendation—and Friday’s report—are themselves revisions to the College’s current policy on single-gender social organizations, which took effect with the Class of 2021 and bars members of the groups from campus leadership positions, athletic team captaincies, and certain prestigious fellowships.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences will discuss the report at its monthly meeting on Tuesday, and University President Drew G. Faust will make the final decision on which of the options Harvard should pursue.

The committee’s first option would “phase out” all social organizations by 2022 or allow them to switch to a model in compliance with policies for recognized student organizations. The report cites the examples of Williams College and Bowdoin College, who banned fraternities and sororities from their campuses.

The second option proposed in the report involves maintaining the current sanctions accepted by Faust in May 2016. That implementation of that policy, initially set for this fall, was effectively put on hold amid uncertainty about the future of the penalties.

The third option put forth by the committee did not comprise any specific suggestions. In the report, committee members wrote that “this option is… a collection of thoughts” and “not intended to form a cohesive whole or outline a specific policy.”

In six bullet-pointed paragraphs underneath this third option, members laid out a variety of suggestions including: a “dedicated campaign” to “inform students and their parents about the risks of joining USGSOs,” holding “training” sessions for leaders and members of social groups instead of sanctioning them, and increasing cooperation with the Cambridge Police Department to monitor the final clubs.

In addition to the report, Faculty members will hear a new motion presented by Government Professor Danielle S. Allen on Tuesday. In an “explanatory memo” sent to Faculty Friday afternoon, Allen argues that final clubs are recognized by Massachusetts as “student organizations” and that the policies of the Harvard Student Handbook should apply to members of those organizations. Allen’s motion is scheduled for discussion at Tuesday’s Faculty meeting, according to the meeting’s agenda.

“The years-long saga with the final clubs underscores that the sanctioning, or re-direction, mechanism built into our basic policies for student organizations fails,” Allen wrote.

In the body of the report, the committee dismissed Allen’s recommendation as unworkable.

“The problem with this proposal is that the College is not at liberty to pronounce these organizations recognized and then compel them to comply,” the report reads.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith formed the committee in January and tasked it with reviewing and revising the original penalties after faculty members charged that administrators had not included them in the policy-making process.

The committee has been mired in controversy since Smith announced that Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, one of the major architects of the original policy, would co-chair the committee. Some have also raised questions about the body’s process—in July, The Crimson reported that the full-fledged social group ban received just seven votes from the 27-member committee, making it the third-most popular option considered. In an interview this week, Khurana refused to comment on how the committee came to its preliminary recommendation this summer or say whether he personally thinks the ban is a good idea.

In the initial report released this summer, the committee wrote there was “strong majority support” among members for a ban on membership in both single-gender and co-ed groups. In its final report, though, the committee acknowledged the group was unable to decide on one best option.

“As a committee, we did not reach consensus about the path forward,” the report reads. “Therefore, we decided that, rather than present a single recommendation, we would present what we discovered during our deliberations and through the extensive feedback we received from the community.”

Members also included a four-page, single-spaced “Minority Report” at the end of the document, in which psychology professor Jason P. Mitchell attempted to make sense of the debate on social club regulation that has roiled Harvard for over a year.

Though Mitchell wrote that the “Minority Report” was “not intended as a dissent per se,” he did indicate that any of the proposed sanctions against social groups would constitute an “extraordinary” step.

“One index of just how extraordinary these policies seem is the amount of time spent by the USGSO Committee on the question of whether the various sanctions policies are even legal. Such policies will take us into uncharted places,” he wrote.

In the report, committee members also discussed Harvard’s reasons for attempting to regulate undergraduate social life. Harvard administrators have twice revised their stated rationale for a social group policy since Faust announced the sanctions, shifting the focus from sexual assault prevention towards the elimination of gender discrimination, and then towards preventing all kinds of discrimination.

The report acknowledged that some Harvard affiliates feel the argument for addressing the social groups has “shifted over time,” and called “this sense of shifting sands...understandable.”

Committee members then reaffirmed that the College’s “commitment to non-discrimination” drove the body’s work before specifically noting that final club membership practices perpetuate race-based discrimination.

“Female students of color reported stories of insults and epithets said to them as they were denied entry to a club,” the report reads. “As our student body becomes increasingly diverse, it is more imperative than ever that questions of rights must be asked from multiple vantage points.”

The report faces opposition, however. Former Dean of the College and vocal sanctions opponent Harry R. Lewis ’68 will present a motion at Tuesday’s Faculty meeting designed to invalidate any administrative action on social organizations.

Per Faculty meeting rules, Lewis’ motion will only be up for discussion for the October meeting. Should the Faculty ultimately vote on the motion at November’s meeting, they will do so by paper ballot.

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

–Staff writer Mia C. Karr can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @miackarr.

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

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