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University President Drew G. Faust condemned possible Congressional interference in Harvard’s policy on single-gender social organizations in an interview Thursday, calling it “not the business of the United States Congress.”
Her remarks referred to a suggested amendment to the Higher Education Act, a 1965 piece of legislation that is up for reauthorization. The law principally deals with programs related to financial aid and higher education affordability, but a group of Republican lawmakers are trying to tack on an provision that would legislate universities’ ability to regulate student social life.
In Dec. 2017, The Crimson reported Representative Elise Stefanik ’06 was pushing an amendment to the reauthorization that seeks to forbid universities that have “a policy allowing for the official recognition of single-sex student organizations” from penalizing members of the groups.
That legislation—known as the PROSPER Act—passed a House committee 23-17 in December, but has yet to move to the full House or Senate for a vote.
As it stands now, the amendment would likely not affect Harvard’s highly contested sanctions against single-gender social organizations, which Faust debuted in May 2016. The College does not have a policy officially recognizing final clubs and Greek organizations, meaning the legislation in its current form does not apply.
But final club members and alumni have been lobbying Congress to re-work the language of the amendment so that it would prevent Harvard from implementing the sanctions, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.
The final club graduates' efforts come as the implementation of the sanctions are already well underway. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted to include the penalties in the Harvard College Student Handbook at their meeting Tuesday.
Faust said Thursday she is “distressed” by Republican lawmakers’ attempts to interfere in what she considers to be internal University affairs.
“I don’t think this is an appropriate role for Congress,” Faust said. “Domestic local affairs of universities and how we manage student life seem to be appropriately the business of Harvard College and those in and around Harvard College, not the business of the United States Congress.”
Faust said she spoke to lawmakers about the social group policy last fall. She traveled to Washington last week, but said she has not yet broached the amendment with members of Congress.
Faust said she has previously been active in “expressing the foundations for why we have this policy, why it’s important, and why it ought to be our responsibility to direct student affairs articulating those purposes and goals.”
—Staff writer Kristine E. Guillaume can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @krisguillaume.
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