The 10 Stories That Shaped 2016

There was no shortage of surprises in 2016. Between unprecedented penalties on members of undergraduate social organizations, the stunning rise of Donald Trump to the presidency, and a dining workers strike that lasted more than three weeks, events at Harvard and beyond defied expectations and challenged norms. The Crimson takes a look back at the essential stories of a pivotal year.

By Grace Z. Li
Historic Social Group Sanctions
Reversing decades of a hands-off attitude towards single-gender social organizations, administrators announced controversial penalties on members of the groups.
1. Administrators Crack Down on Final Clubs, Greek Life

In 2016, Harvard administrators took an unprecedented step to challenge centuries-old institutions that have long been at the center of many Harvard undergraduates' social lives and unveiled a policy penalizing members of final clubs and Greek organizations. The policy, a reversal of a largely hands-off attitude that administrators had held for decades towards the social groups, was the result of months of closed door meetings and deliberations.

Early in the year, a University-wide task force released a report on sexual assault prevention that blasted all-male clubs for fostering “deeply misogynistic attitudes” and emphasized higher reported incidences of sexual assault among College women “participating in the Final Clubs.” The task force called on the College to develop a plan to address the clubs.

But final club leaders contested the findings of the report, and one club commissioned an analysis that sharply questioned the University’s findings.

Public debate over the task force report carried on alongside closed-door meetings between administrators and final club members. Efforts to push clubs to adopt gender neutral memberships, led by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, were met with firm and sometimes-public resistance.

In April, the then-graduate board president of the traditionally taciturn Porcellian took the unusual step of publicly criticizing the College’s actions. Making national headlines and sparking widespread condemnation, the comments led to an apology from the Porcellian president and his resignation from the graduate board.

On May 6, University President Drew G. Faust announced the new College policy, which, starting with the Class of 2021, will prohibit members of clubs and Greek organizations from becoming leaders of recognized student groups, holding varsity captaincies, or receiving College endorsements for prestigious fellowships.

Despite a number of supporters, including certain professors, varsity coaches, and members of the Harvard Corporation, the sanctions drew harsh condemnation from many students and some alumni. After the policy’s announcement, hundreds of women rallied in Harvard Yard in opposition to the College’s policy.

The final clubs themselves remained relatively quiet as debate over the policy continued on campus. The Fly Club retained legal counsel, while other clubs have modified their recruitment practices.

Meanwhile, the committee tasked with determining the details of the policy’s implementation—including how it will be enforced and what qualifies as a “leadership position”—is set to submit final recommendations to Khurana next semester.

Of the traditionally all-male clubs, only the Spee Club has permanently adopted gender neutral recruitment practices, a change they enacted before the policy was announced. This fall, the traditionally-female Sablière Society announced plans to adopt gender neutral practices.
Men's Athletics Teams Disciplined
Harvard’s men’s soccer and cross country teams produced yearly documents—some sexually explicit—evaluating members of women’s teams on the basis of their physical appearance.
2. Men's Athletic Teams Produced Annual Sexually Explicit Documents

After The Crimson reported that both Harvard’s men’s soccer and cross country teams produced yearly documents—some sexually explicit—evaluating members of women’s teams on the basis of their physical appearance, the Athletics Department disciplined the two teams.

In late October, The Crimson reported that the 2012 Harvard men’s soccer team created a document in which men on the team evaluated incoming freshmen members of the women’s soccer team in sexually explicit terms. The document, referred to by the team as a “scouting report,” was circulated over the group’s email list prior to the fall 2012 semester and appeared to be an annual practice.

In early November, Harvard’s Office of General Counsel—the University’s legal arm–launched a review of the soccer team’s conduct, finding that the team had produced similar documents as recently as this year. This discovery prompted administrators to cancel the rest of the team’s season. The soccer team, on track to play for a share of the Ivy League title, penned a public apology on the day of the cancellation.

Harvard’s Title IX office also responded to the documents, separate from the OGC. The federal government is currently investigating the College’s compliance with Title IX.

Two days later, The Crimson reported that past Harvard men’s cross country teams produced annual spreadsheets about members of the women’s team, some of which included sexually explicit comments. Ahead of an OGC review, team leaders shared information about the documents with coaches and asked teammates to be forthcoming about the spreadsheets In early December, Harvard’s Athletic Director announced that the cross country team would be on “athletic probation” after the OGC review found the current team’s spreadsheet did not contain lewd comments.

Meanwhile, peer institutions have launched similar investigations into men’s athletic teams as more reports of explicit and offensive documents and messages have surfaced. Since the soccer team’s punishment, Columbia, Amherst, Princeton, and Washington University in St. Louis have all suspended the seasons of male athletes.

Dining Workers Strike
Harvard's dining services workers launched a strike in October that lasted more than three weeks, closing dining halls across campus.
3. Dining Hall Workers Strike For 22 Days, Shuttering Campus Dining Halls

A historic strike by Harvard’s dining hall workers roiled campus for more than three weeks as the employees sought to establish a “minimum guaranteed salary” of $35,000 per year and prevent increases in health care costs.

Harvard’s dining hall workers first took to picket lines Oct. 6, and—supported by their union UNITE HERE Local 26—maintained the lines for 22 days.

The strike marked the first time since 1983 that Harvard’s campus had seen a HUDS walkout, and the first time in history that dining hall workers left their posts during the academic year.

During the strike, Harvard shuttered several undergraduate dining halls and campus cafes due to the lack of employees. To serve food in understaffed kitchens, the University enlisted help from some of its exempt employees and temporary workers.

The workers’ strike earned wide support from the University’s student body. A survey pledging support for the workers garnered thousands of signatures, and hundreds of students marched with workers almost every day.

But not everyone was pleased with the workers’ decision to strike. Even among the union’s members, a handful—about 14 workers at the two-week mark of the strike—broke picket lines, citing frustration with the union’s bargaining tactics and satisfaction with some of Harvard’s proposals as reasons for their return. During the contract negotiations, Harvard and union representatives met for more than 20 bargaining sessions.

Union leaders heralded the resulting contract and the strike’s resolution as a resounding victory. Under the new contract, Harvard will pay its full-time dining employees at least $35,000 a year and will cover increases copayments until 2021. After the two parties reached an agreement, Local 26 president Brian Lang said the settlement “accomplished all of our goals.”

The strike could have ramifications for a campus that has maintained a relatively cordial relationship with its unions, as opposed to some peer institutions like Yale, which have historically seen more organized action by its collective bargaining organizations.

Fear and Activism After Trump's Victory
As President-elect Trump’s team geared up for the transfer of power, Harvard administrators grappled with issues facing the University’s undocumented students.
4. After Trump's Unexpected Win, Harvard Mobilizes for Undocumented Students

After Donald Trump claimed the presidency in a stunning upset on Nov. 9, Harvard’s campus was plunged into disbelief and turbulence. Over the next few months, as Trump’s team geared up for the transfer of power, Harvard administrators grappled with issues facing the University’s undocumented students in wake of his victory.

Throughout Trump’s campaign, the political outsider took a number of anti-immigrant positions—he promised to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and, in his speech announcing his candidacy, called Mexicans “rapists.” Many students and professors mobilized against Trump during campaign season, and the Harvard Republican Club refused to endorse Trump after he became the party’s presidential nominee in July.

After the election, a number of Harvard affiliates reported incidents of racially-motivated harassment around campus, mirroring a nationwide uptick in hate speech.

Harvard students and faculty also expressed concern for the fate of undocumented students under Trump, and stepped up advocacy efforts. In late November, hundreds rallied in Harvard Yard to petition the University to take “concrete action” to support its undocumented students, and over 350 Harvard faculty members signed a letter calling on University President Drew G. Faust to protect these students. The Anthropology Department urged Faust to designate Harvard a “sanctuary campus.”

Responding to these calls for action, Faust signed a letter in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program shielding undocumented students, and pledged to take steps to protect Harvard’s undocumented students in a University-wide email. Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said he would prioritize safeguarding undocumented students.

Faust, however, refused to label Harvard a “sanctuary campus” at a faculty meeting in early December, disappointing undocumented students on campus. Most recently, she said she is “ramping up” her efforts to persuade lawmakers in Washington, D.C., of the importance of protecting undocumented students under Trump’s fast-approaching administration.

Harvard's Underperforming Endowment
​The value of Harvard’s endowment plunged by almost $2 billion in a year that left some eagerly awaiting the changes the next CEO of Harvard Management Company will make in 2017.
5. Harvard's Endowment Loses Almost $2 Billion In Value

The value of Harvard’s endowment plunged by almost $2 billion in a year that left some questioning the University’s investment strategies and eagerly awaiting the changes the next CEO of Harvard Management Company may make in 2017.

HMC—the University's underperforming investment arm—saw another year of underperformance in fiscal year 2016, posting a negative 2 percent return on its investments, marking its worst results since the start of the global recession in fiscal year 2009. Factoring in several financial flows, including Harvard’s annual operation costs, the endowment dropped in value from $37.6 billion to $35.7 billion.

These “disappointing” returns came in a year when many institutional investments faltered—but Harvard’s peer institution and long-standing rival Yale performed relatively well, posting 3.4 percent returns for FY 2016. University President Drew G. Faust said the low returns will “constrain” budgets at Harvard, limiting the University’s ability to fund programming, and Harvard’s financial report for fiscal year 2016 warned that University’s revenue streams may be subdued in coming years.

HMC also saw significant administrative turnover this year, further complicating the investment arm’s efforts to improve performance. In July, Stephen Blyth—who, two months earlier, took a medical leave of absence from the company—announced his resignation. In his stead, Robert A. Ettl, HMC’s chief operating officer, assumed interim leadership of the company.

Just a week after HMC announced its returns in the fall, the company said N.P Narvekar, who previously led Columbia University’s investment branch, would take the reins at HMC in December. Narvekar, an alternative asset specialist, will be the fourth CEO at HMC in the last ten years. Under his leadership, Columbia’s endowment—which is roughly a quarter the size of Harvard’s—posted a negative 0.9 percent return in fiscal year 2016.

Financial experts say Narvekar will likely examine Harvard’s “hybrid” investment model and potentially change the University’s investment structure. Under the “hybrid” model, HMC employs hundreds of staffers internally while also retaining external money managers. Yale, on the other hand, invests mostly through outside funds and employs fewer than 40 people at its investment office. Harvard has, in some cases, already started moving some asset classes towards external management.
Student Unionization Effort Comes To A Vote
A landmark NLRB ruling allowed Harvard graduate and undergraduate student unionization to go to a vote, but it's not over yet.
6. Landmark Student Unionization Election Ultimately Inconclusive

In 2016, an effort to create a union representing graduate student research and teaching assistants—as well as undergraduate teaching assistants—came to a peak, as eligible students checked their ballots to decide whether or not to unionize. But the result of that vote was too close to call, and the future of Harvard’s student unionization effort remains in flux until 2017.

Before the vote in November, though, union organizers and Harvard administrators took a number of steps to advance their respective positions in the unionization debate over the course of the year. In February, the union effort said a majority of graduate students employed by the University across all schools and departments had signed authorization cards supporting unionization. The National Labor Relations Board uses authorization cards to gauge if a union effort has enough support to call for an election.

Harvard, though, did not quietly stand by. That same month, the University filed a joint amicus brief opposing student unionization to the NLRB, which at the time was hearing a case on whether private universities should recognize graduate student unions and classify teaching and research assistants as employees.

In August, the unionization effort gained new momentum when the NLRB ruled in favor of student unionization, paving the way for Harvard students to vote this fall on forming a union.

Ahead of the November election, administrators reached out to the student body several times via email to argue against a student union and encourage students to vote. The union effort also emailed eligible students and took to undergraduate dining halls, encouraging them to vote in favor of unionizing.

After students took to the polls on Nov. 16 and 17, more than 1,000 ballots challenged during the election because of questions of voter eligibility slowed the counting process for weeks.

Finally, in December, a vote count revealed that eligible students voted 1,456 to 1,272 against unionization. But 314 ballots remain under challenge—enough to sway the election, depending on whether the NLRB ultimately counts the votes. In a hearing next month, the NLRB will determine which of the challenged ballots can be counted, and the final outcome of Harvard’s union effort.

Harvard Sets Higher Ed Fundraising Record
In a banner fundraising year, Harvard passed the $7 billion mark in its record-setting capital campaign.
7. Capital Campaign Raises Over $7 Billion

2016 was a banner year for Harvard’s latest capital campaign. While Harvard did not receive any nine-figure gifts as it has in some past years, overall University fundraising reached record-breaking heights and several individual schools neared or surpassed their targets two years before the campaign’s scheduled end.

In March, University President Drew G. Faust laid out some of the $6.5 billion capital campaign’s goals and accomplishments in a speech to hundreds of alumni and Harvard affiliates. Though Faust did not say how much money had been raised overall, she highlighted both the campaign’s achievements and its remaining priorities.

Soon after, in April, The Crimson reported that Harvard had surpassed its $6.5 billion goal, setting a new record for fundraising in higher education and passing its overall target just two and a half years after the campaign's public launch. University officials have said they did not plan to raise the fundraising target, and would focus instead on polishing off remaining funding priorities, including undergraduate financial aid, House renewal, and building a new campus in Allston.

In its first public announcement since Oct. 2015, the University unveiled in September that Harvard had raised more than $7 billion overall during its capital campaign, which publicly began in 2013. Several weeks later, that figure became a rallying cry for striking dining services workers, who argued that a University capable of raising billions of dollars could afford salary hikes for its workers.

In early October, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith informed faculty members that FAS had exceeded its $2.5 billion goal in June. But fundraising for several campaign priorities, such as House renewal, have lagged, prompting FAS to dip into its dwindling reserves and consider permitting donors to endow Faculty Deanships. Meanwhile, the Kennedy School reached $570 million in its fundraising push—topping its $500 million target—mainly through non-alumni donations.

Other schools neared their individual goals this year: the Business School has raised $925 million of its $1 billion target, while the Medical School—one of the last schools to join the campaign—has raised just over $600 million of its $750 million goal. As of June, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Dean had raised $55 million, or 80 percent, of its $70 million goal, and the Graduate School of Design had raised $92 million of $110 million as of December.

Faculty Debate Social Organization Policy
Faculty members faced off against top administrators in arguments about the College's historic policy penalizing members of final clubs and Greek organizations.
8. Some Faculty Members Lead Charge Against Social Club Sanctions

As the College rolled out unprecedented penalties for students in single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations, several Faculty members faced off against top administrators in arguments about whether the policy violated students’ freedom of association and the role of Faculty in crafting student life policy.

After the sanctions were unveiled in May, prominent Faculty members, like former University President and Economics professor Lawrence H. Summers and former Dean of the College and Computer Science professor Harry R. Lewis ’68, publicly criticized the policy—which, starting with the class of 2021, prohibits members of certain social organizations from becoming leaders of recognized student organizations, varsity team captains, or receiving the College’s endorsement for post-graduate fellowships like the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships. Later that month, in attempt to nullify the policy, Lewis and eleven other Faculty members drafted a motion resolving that “Harvard College shall not discriminate against students on the basis of organizations they join.”

The motion engendered months of tense relations and debate between University administrators and members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The Faculty delayed discussing the motion at its October meeting, the Faculty Council abstained from voting on it at all, and Faculty members held a spirited discussion about the motion in November, although they did not vote on it at the time. At the Faculty meetings, sharp differences of opinion emerged between Faculty members and administrators, and between members of the Faculty itself, about the policy. Meanwhile, final clubs and Greek organizations waited for clarity on the implications of a “yes” vote by the Faculty.

After months of debate and lobbying on both sides, a vote was on the docket for the Faculty meeting in December. But Faust adjourned the meeting at the regular end time, tabling the motion until 2017. During the meeting, Faculty members questioned whether the motion received proper Faculty consultation, a charge Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith deemed “categorically false”.

Renewed Title IX Scrutiny
A concern at Harvard for some time, administrators this year published a report with wide-reaching recommendations to reform the University's methods of preventing and responding to sexual assault.
9. A Wide-Ranging Report Aims to Better Prevent Sexual Assault

In a year that saw renewed scrutiny of Harvard’s response to sexual assault on campus, the University took new steps to try and overhaul its approach to sexual assault prevention and considered ways to alter its response to reported cases.

Early in 2016, a group of professors and students began meeting to review and recommend changes to Harvard’s Title IX policy as the federal government continued to investigate the College’s Title IX compliance.

But that body, created after Law School professors criticized the policy, was not the only University-wide committee that would consider Harvard’s approach to sexual assault on campus. A University task force released in March a wide-ranging set of recommendations for how Harvard could better prevent sexual assault on campus, including mandating annual sexual assault prevention training for students, creating a new administrative position dedicated to sexual assault prevention, and addressing the "misogynistic" culture of the final clubs. The task force, which missed its original January deadline for the report, then disbanded and left each of Harvard’s schools to act on its recommendations.

Criticism and review of Harvard’s Title IX policies intensified after Alyssa R. Leader ’15 sued Harvard in federal court, charging that the University violated Title IX and acting with "deliberate indifference" in responding to her sexual harassment case. In subsequent court proceedings, Harvard has attempted to dismiss the case on legal grounds.

Additionally, in September, an anonymous op-ed criticized the University for being unable to provide a rape kit. According to Harvard officials, however, this is a stipulation of Massachusetts law.

In the midst of this criticism, the Title IX Office launched a new website in an attempt to better inform University affiliates about its policies and procedures. The College also rolled out a mandatory sexual assault prevention training module for all undergraduates.

Finally, in November the Title IX office published its first-ever annual report about sexual assault on campus. In it, the office reported that the Title IX coordinators at the College had received 121 disclosures of incidents of sexual harassment during the 2014-2015 academic year, a nearly four-fold increase from the previous year. Mia Karvonides, Harvard’s Title IX Officer, said this increase indicates progress because sexual assault is “historically underreported.”

A Changing Law School
After race and diversity came to dominate campus discourse at the Law School in the fall of 2015, Law School student activists organized a series of campaigns and protests to spur administrative change.
10. Law School Activists Demand Diversity

After race and diversity came to dominate campus discourse at the Law School in the fall of 2015, Law School student activists organized a series of campaigns and protests in the spring of 2016 that placed pressure on administrators to make both symbolic and substantive changes.

A racially-charged incident of vandalism in Nov. 2015 spurred further activism and set the stage for 2016 at the Law School. Strips of black tape placed over the portraits of black professors prompted a police investigation and Law School Dean Martha L. Minow to declare racism a “serious problem” at the school. Following the incident, student activists coalesced into the group Reclaim Harvard Law and issued a set of demands around diversity and inclusion to Minow in December.

The Harvard University Police Department closed the investigation into the black tape incident in January, marking the case unsolved, but student activism continued to intensify. In February, members of Reclaim Harvard Law began occupying the Law School’s student lounge to create a space they said had been denied to minorities at the school. The occupation lasted until May. Amidst the occupation and other protests, Law School Dean of Students Marcia L. Sells announced several initiatives to address diversity and inclusion.

One of the activists’ demands was soon met in March, when a committee dedicated to studying the Law School’s seal, the crest of a formerly slaveholding family, recommended that the Harvard Corporation that the school abandon the symbol—a recommendation the Harvard Corporation approved 10 days later. By late March, the seal was quickly disappearing from campus, although the school will not decide on its official replacement until 2017.

Student activists continued to demand change at the Law School. Amid debates about free speech and concerns about a recording device hidden among protestors, activists wrote an open letter to the Harvard Corporation demanding an end to tuition.

The Law School was markedly quieter in the fall. Activists did not resume their occupation, and turned their attention instead to University-wide or nationwide causes, including supporting the HUDS strike and rallying against president-elect Donald Trump.

Designed by Tara J. Aida, Mirhee Kim, Samuel M. Fishman, and Josh R. Palay.