Harvard’s social group sanctions, it seems, are here to stay.
After more than a year of faculty scrutiny, student protest, and administrative review of the College’s penalties on members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations, the Harvard Corporation voted in Dec. 2017 to keep the social group policy as is.
Introduced in May 2016, the policy bars members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations—starting with the Class of 2021—from holding leadership positions in student groups and athletic teams and from receiving College endorsement for certain postgraduate fellowships.
At the start of 2017, the policy’s fate was uncertain. After some professors charged faculty members were not properly consulted during the policy's formulation, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced the creation of a faculty committee in January with the power to “revise or replace” the penalties.
In June, that committee, led by Khurana and Music Professor Suzannah Clark, released an interim report recommending all social groups be “phased out by May 2022.” The committee claimed strong majority support for the proposal—but The Crimson reported in July that only seven members of the 27-member committee voted for this total ban.
Three months later, the committee published a final report walking back the proposed ban. Instead, the committee suggested three options: The original May 2016 policy, a complete ban of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations, or a set of “other possible solutions.”
Faust announced in December that the University would pick the first option and keep the 2016 policy—but the choice was not hers alone. The Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, waded into the debate with its vote for the sanctions. This atypical intervention in undergraduate social life is meant to ensure the penalties will stay in effect under Harvard’s next president, who takes office after Faust steps down in June 2018.
Over the past year, some professors argued the sanctions should fall under Faculty purview—former dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 even spearheaded two Faculty motions designed to kill the penalties, both of which ultimately failed in a major victory for administrators. The Corporation’s involvement, however, put a definitive end to the months-long debate over governance between the Faculty and the administration.
Though the policy was in limbo for much of the year, it still had an effect: At least six single-gender social organizations restructured and adopted co-ed membership practices following the May 2016 announcement. Other groups, though, remained defiant; the all-male Fox Club, for example, revoked membership from all women in July and reverted to its traditional single-gender status.
The content of the policy may be finally settled, but questions about its implementation and repercussions remain. In December, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith said it is still unclear whether the sanctions will be included in the next student handbook; changes to the handbook require Faculty approval.
Adding to the uncertainty, an amendment to a higher education bill currently making its way through Congress would bar universities—perhaps including Harvard—from implementing policies that ban membership in single-gender groups.
Ever since University President Drew G. Faust’s June announcement that she will step down after a decade-long stint as Harvard’s leader, a presidential search committee has been on the hunt for her successor.
All twelve members of the Harvard Corporation—Harvard’s highest governing body—and three members of the Board of Overseers sit on the committee, formed two weeks after Faust said she planned to leave her post.
The committee has met several times behind closed doors and has narrowed the pool of potential internal and external candidates to under 20. Committee members have repeatedly declined to comment on the body's famously secretive search process, but if the timeline for this year’s search lines up with past searches, the committee will likely announce the next president sometime in the first few months of 2018.
At this stage in the search, likely candidates within the University include Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria, Government professor Danielle S. Allen, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith, and University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76, according to several prominent donors and professors.
Students, faculty, staff, and alumni have been eager to offer input on the search. The University created faculty and staff advisory committees to the search committee in August, and weeks later, the University also formed a student advisory committee comprising at least one representative from each of Harvard’s 12 degree-granting schools. Members of the advisory committees and search committee have since met with students, faculty, and alumni in person to discuss the qualities they would like to see in Harvard’s 29th president. Still, some criticized the opacity of the process at an event at the Faculty Club in December.
During the information-gathering mode of the search—which lasted until December—the search committee received more than 700 unique nominations for candidates. Several alumni groups submitted letters to the search committee, urging it to prioritize candidates from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. All of Harvard’s presidents have been white and, until Faust, male.
Harvard’s next president will have to take action on a slate of key issues when he or she takes office. Since Trump took office, Harvard’s president has increasingly taken on the role of lobbyist-in-chief. Harvard is also currently expanding into Allston, and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences will constitute a central part of the next president’s tenure. The next president will need to spearhead fundraising initiatives at a time when Harvard is facing financial constraints from subpar endowment returns, threats to federal funding, and now, an “unprecedented” endowment tax. Moreover, Faust’s successor will take office as a controversial College social group policy takes effect—and he or she likely won’t be able to do much about it.
Harvard’s admissions office faced an elevated level of federal and legal scrutiny this year as it battled an anti-affirmative action lawsuit and a Department of Justice probe.
The office also made national and international headlines after rescinding acceptances for more than ten students because they exchanged obscene memes in a private group chat.
Despite these challenges, the University boasted record-high application numbers, record-high financial aid spending, and a record-high yield of admitted students to the class of 2021 that led to an especially large freshman class.
The lawsuit, introduced in 2014, questions Harvard's consideration of race in undergraduate admissions, with anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions alleging that the University discriminates against Asian-American applicants. In January, two Asian-American high school students were accepted as amici curiae in support of Harvard’s policies. Three months later, advocacy group Students for Fair Admissions subpoenaed multiple prestigious high schools in an attempt to view their records of student admissions to Harvard. Boston Latin School, a top University feeder school which had moved to quash its subpoena, was forced to participate in the lawsuit in May. Early last summer, the court rejected Harvard’s 2016 motion to dismiss the lawsuit altogether.
With expert discovery and depositions scheduled to be completed by May 1, 2018, the lawsuit itself has remained relatively quiet in the second half of 2017. Elsewhere, though, more controversy was brewing.
In August, the Department of Justice announced its intention to investigate Harvard’s admissions process. The DOJ’s active investigation was confirmed through a Freedom of Information Act request in October, and in November the department threatened a lawsuit against Harvard if it did not receive a requested batch of student records by Dec. 1. Just before the deadline, Harvard signaled its willingness to provide the records and a DOJ spokesperson said they saw “a potential path forward."
For much of the school’s history, Harvard’s admissions policies have had broader repercussions for American higher education. One notable example is the “Harvard Plan” of the early 1970s, an early model for race-conscious admissions which managed to pass federal scrutiny—in the 1980s, the United States Department of Education ruled the plan was not a quota system and was therefore constitutional. The ultimate outcomes of the ongoing lawsuit and federal probe may be equally epochal for race-based admissions across the country.
Five years after Harvard earned national attention for an “unprecedented” cheating scandal involving more than 100 students in Government 1310: “Introduction to Congress,” the College in 2017 faced another cheating scandal—this time in a popular Computer Science class.
More than 60 fall 2016 enrollees in Computer Science 50: “Introduction to Computer Science I” appeared before the College’s Honor Council to face charges of academic dishonesty in a rash of cheating cases that stretched the Council to its limits. The accused students comprised almost ten percent of CS50’s 636 total enrollees that semester.
After The Crimson reported on the cheating, current and former students and teaching fellows said they thought certain course policies and procedures contributed to the spike in academic dishonesty cases. CS50 head instructor David J. Malan ’99 later updated several CS50 policies.
In particular, students and teaching fellows said they thought CS50’s collaboration policy—summarized as “be reasonable”—was too vague and likely led some students to cheat unintentionally.
Some also pointed out that many of the answers to CS50 problem sets became available online as the course grew in size over the past decade, likely increasing the temptation to cheat. Malan does not often update course problem sets, meaning the answers stayed relevant year after year, the staffers said.
Finally, students and staffers charged that, because CS50 reviewed academic integrity violations in one batch at the end of the semester, students likely did not learn of allegations against them until months after they potentially violated course policy. Students and staffers said this disadvantaged accused enrollees. The late reporting system also increased the burden on the Honor Council, which adjudicates all cases of academic dishonesty at the College, some said.
Course staff and administrators updated course policies for the fall 2017 iteration of CS50. Malan changed the class’s default grading system to “Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory.” He additionally encouraged students to attend class and section in-person, a departure from previous course policy that declared attendance optional.
Malan also required students to attend a new orientation session on academic integrity in fall 2017. Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris stopped by that meeting and told students not to cheat. He pulled up CS50’s 1,500-word academic honesty policy on a projector and asked attendees to read through the entire document—slowly and silently, just to themselves.
When President Donald Trump took office in January, a sense of crisis gripped students and administrators on campus. Trump’s unexpected victory prompted many, including University President Drew G. Faust, to increase advocacy efforts around political issues affecting Harvard affiliates.
Hours after Trump issued an executive order closing America’s borders to seven predominantly Muslim countries in January, more than 150 Harvard affiliates staged an “emergency protest.” University administrators, including Faust, criticized the ban and Harvard soon filed amicus briefs against it. When Trump signed the second iteration of his travel ban in March, Harvard affiliates again took to the streets in protest and the Harvard International Office counseled those affected.
On multiple occasions, Faust traveled to Washington to meet with lawmakers from both parties, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, and Vice President Mike Pence. Faust voiced concerns about protections for undocumented students, the tax-exempt status of the University’s endowment, and federal research funding.
In September, campus activism spiked when Trump repealed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program that allowed undocumented youth to legally live and work in the United States. Hundreds rallied in Tercentenary Theatre and 31 professors were arrested during a protest in Harvard Square.
In November, a new threat to University priorities loomed: a Republican tax plan that would tax returns on Harvard’s endowment and that threatened to nix tax-free tuition status for graduate students. Faust named the Republican tax plan the University’s top lobbying priority and graduate students held a phone bank to lobby lawmakers to keep their tuition waivers tax-free.
When Trump signed the tax overhaul into law, graduate students were relieved to find that the tuition provision had been removed—but the University will likely pay tens of millions of dollars annually in an endowment tax Faust called “unprecedented.” In an emailed statement to The Crimson, Faust wrote that Harvard’s tax-related lobbying efforts are far from over.
Much of future advocacy, however, will fall to Faust’s successor after June 2018, the month Faust is slated to step down as University president.
In a year filled with uncertainty about future enforcement of Title IX—a federal law barring sex discrimination—Harvard restructured its administrative arm that deals with cases of sexual assault, reaffirmed its commitment to enforcing its existing policies, and confronted a series of lawsuits and investigations into its Title IX-related practices.
Following former Title IX Officer Mia Karvonides’s departure in January, the Title IX office moved to restructure itself, splitting its investigative operation from its education and resource-provision activities. Nicole M. Merhill, a former Deputy Title IX officer, took the helm of the revamped Title IX Office, which focuses on training and supporting students. William D. McCants, the acting Title IX Officer upon Karvonides’s resignation, now leads the newly created Office of Dispute Resolution, which investigates complaints of sexual misconduct and some other violations of University policy.
Just a few months after the administrative restructuring, Title IX itself came under fire when Trump administration Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos raised the minimum standard of proof in sexual misconduct cases. Obama-era guidelines instructed universities to use the lowest standard of proof—called “preponderance of the evidence”—when determining guilt in these cases. Schools are now permitted to use a higher standard called “clear and convincing evidence,” though Harvard is not required to adopt this standard. A number of Harvard Law School faculty members advocated for a higher standard of proof in federal policies prior to the official change, taking issue with overbroad definitions of sexual misconduct and a process they say restricts the rights of the accused under the old guidelines.
Prior to DeVos’s policy change, Deputy Provost Peggy E. Newell said changes in federal minimum standards of evidence would not substantially alter Harvard’s approach to handling sexual assault issues. After the Department of Education announced the policy shift in September, student activists—including members of anti-sexual assault advocacy group Our Harvard Can Do Better—released a statement condemning DeVos’s decision and imploring Harvard to maintain its current standard. In November, the University’s Title IX administrators published a reaffirmation of their commitment to protecting Title IX rights at Harvard.
Beyond policy shifts in Washington, the University saw an increase in reports of sexual misconduct among students in the past year, with a notable spike in complaints following the outpouring of sexual harassment and assault claims in Hollywood and the corporate world.
Harvard also continues to be the focus of a federal probe launched in 2014 to investigate the school’s Title IX policies and enforcement. The Crimson reported in Nov. 2017 that Harvard is facing two other, previously undisclosed federal investigations, bringing the total number of active probes to three.
In addition to these inquiries, the University faces a lawsuit filed by Alyssa R. Leader ’15 in 2016 that alleges the school mishandled her complaints of sexual misconduct during and after a dating relationship she had with another unnamed College student. Earlier this year, Harvard sought a jury trial in the case after an unsuccessful attempt to have the case dismissed.
In the wake of two high-profile incidents with the men’s soccer and cross country teams in fall 2016, Harvard’s Athletics Department continued to face controversy and scrutiny in 2017—eventually sparking a department-wide cultural overhaul.
“As you know, our varsity sports program has confronted a number of significant challenges this year,” Director of Athletics Robert L. Scalise wrote in a May 18 email to the College’s nearly 1,200 student-athletes.
In 2017, those challenges included ongoing personnel complaints about a polarizing distance running coach that eventually led to his decision to step down; a human resources investigation into alleged mistreatment of the women’s rugby team; charges of non-compliance with Title IX; and accusations regarding gender and pay inequity within the department.
After the 2016 issues with the soccer and cross country teams—both of which involved male athletes evaluating their female counterparts based on perceived sexual appeal—the Athletics Department undertook a culture review. Following this review and the 2017 incidents, the department implemented a cultural overhaul, adding no fewer than five mandatory trainings and programs for coaches, staff, and athletes. The trainings include sessions on sexual assault prevention, conflict resolution, and unconscious bias. The department also instituted a new protocol for gender inequity-related complaints received from student-athletes.
The personnel complaints about Harvard’s distance running staff centered on Patrick Wales-Dinan. Though Wales-Dinan led the women’s cross country and track team to new heights of success over the past few years, current and former athletes said he created a culture characterized by unhealthy training and eating habits and an unrealistic expectation of total devotion. Wales-Dinan stepped down in June 2017.
On the varsity women’s rugby team, meanwhile, current and former coaches and players raised concerns with Harvard administrators—all the way up to University President Drew G. Faust—that the Athletics Department does not properly support the women’s rugby team nor women’s teams generally. These complaints led Harvard to open a department-wide review of gender pay equity and a Human Resources review of how the department responded to the rugby team’s concerns.
2017 saw increased debate and concern over Harvard’s treatment of women and of minority groups underrepresented in certain departments and schools.
Discussions took place at the administrative level: In Sept. 2017, a University-wide task force focused on diversity and inclusion released the draft executive summary of a report recommending central administrators work with Harvard’s twelve schools work to ensure historically marginalized groups experience “full membership in the Harvard community.”
The task force—composed of faculty, alumni, and undergraduates and convened in Sept. 2016—particularly recommended creating a new central administration position focused exclusively on diversity and inclusion.
But the draft summary soon drew controversy. Ethnic studies advocates criticized the recommendations for failing to specifically mention race and ethnicity, prompting administrators like Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana to step forward to defend the document.
Debate over issues of inclusion and belonging also occurred at the departmental level, with several faculty members arguing Harvard must do more to retain female professors who teach and research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. Two professors prepared an internal report revealing the retention rate for female faculty in STEM departments at Harvard is almost 20 percent lower than it is for male faculty.
And in the University’s mathematics department, current and former faculty and students—women and men—spoke out to lament the department’s dearth of female faculty and graduate students. Both faculty and students said the department—which lacks a single female “senior” professor—can be a toxic and discouraging environment for women.
Meanwhile, at the College level, Khurana’s March 2017 decision to reject a proposed summer program for low-income and first-generation students also sparked disagreement. In lieu of that program, the College created a part-time position in the Freshman Dean’s Office titled the “First-Gen Low Income Student Advocate.”
After students lambasted Khurana’s decision—and after the Undergraduate Council penned a letter of support for the program—Khurana and Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67 published a Crimson op-ed defending the College’s rejection of the initiative.
Ultimately, though, Khurana reversed course. The College announced in August 2017 that it plans to pilot a new pre-orientation program for members of “historically marginalized communities,” set to debut in 2018.
2017 marked another turbulent year for Harvard’s struggling endowment.
N.P. “Narv” Narvekar, formerly head of Columbia’s endowment, took over Harvard Management Company in Dec. 2016 as the endowment’s fourth CEO in ten years. Since then, Narvekar has spearheaded several major changes at HMC, including overhauling its management structure and significantly reducing its number of employees. These changes came on the heels of a year of particularly poor performance for the endowment: in 2016, the endowment lost $2 billion in value, meaning it performed second-to-last among Ivy League peers. The negative returns had consequences: Faculty salaries saw a stunted increase this year and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences was forced to run a deficit.
Before this year, Harvard used a “hybrid” model of investment that mixed external and internal management of assets. Narvekar has since shifted the endowment to more external management. In January, Narvekar announced that HMC would lay off around half of its 230 employees. Some of those employees, though will move to outside firms and continue to manage Harvard’s money; by February 2018, HMC’s real estate management team will form a new group at Bain Capital.
Harvard will also invest more than $300 million in a hedge fund run by former HMC managers, with more transfers to independent management expected next year. External management will incur higher fees, but University President Drew G. Faust said in an interview in February that the potential benefit of outsourcing management is worth it.
In another major structural shift, HMC in 2017 switched to a generalist model in which compensation is tied to overall portfolio performance. A 2015 review by consulting firm McKinsey and Company found that compensation tied to easily attainable benchmarks created an unproductive culture at HMC. A group of disgruntled alumni in the class of 1969 later wrote a letter to the Harvard Corporation decrying compensation under this system as “excessive”; University Treasurer Paul J. Finnegan replied to that letter listing six "work streams" HMC is undertaking to improve the firm's performance. In his reply, he particularly cited the switch to the generalist model, writing that HMC is looking "towards a more flexible and collaborative approach." Harvard previously used a silo model in which managers were only responsible for particular asset classes.
Not all Harvard affiliates agree with HMC’s investment decisions—and in 2017, student activists continued to protest against particular investments. In March, students with the group Divest Harvard blockaded University Hall and held a protest in the Yard, once again calling on Harvard to divest its holdings in fossil fuels. HMC’s head of natural resources Colin Butterfield announced the next month that the University was “pausing” investments in some fossil fuels for financial reasons. In April, students launched a group calling for divestment from private prisons. Harvard administrators have long been unwilling or hesitant to divest from certain industries or companies in response to student protests.
Harvard and graduate student union advocates spent 2017 embroiled in procedural battles over the still-inconclusive results of the Nov. 2016 unionization election. At stake is whether or not eligible undergraduate and graduate students can collectively bargain with the University.
In February and March, the regional National Labor Relations Board held a month-long hearing in response to union organizers’ objections that Harvard did not provide full and complete voter lists for the Nov. 2016 election. On the hearing’s first day, 313 ballots from the 2016 election remained disputed—enough to change the provisional result, given the final tally showed 1,272 voters in support of unionization and 1,456 opposed.
A particular point of contention during the hearing was Harvard's decision to omit from the voter list workers who were not currently teaching, but who had previously taught and were likely to do so in future. The union and the University argued over whether students in this group had a continuing employment relationship with the university.
Per the regional NLRB’s instructions, the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers and Harvard filed post-hearing briefs summarizing their arguments in early April. The union continued to maintain the voter lists were incomplete. The university’s brief, though, claimed the number of names left off the voter lists would not have changed the election’s result in a meaningful way.
On April 20, the regional hearing officer ruled in the union’s favor and against Harvard, mandating a re-vote and a second election. Harvard subsequently filed an appeal to the decision with the regional NLRB. But in July, that body ruled in the union's favor, rejecting Harvard's appeal and again calling for a second unionization election.
Foiled at the regional level, Harvard decided to take things national. The University in August filed a second appeal, this time with the national NLRB. After weighing both parties' earlier arguments, the panel of presidential appointees ultimately came to the same conclusion as its regional counterpart: The national NLRB ruled against Harvard, asserting the results of the 2016 election were invalid. The body called for the remaining ballots from that election to be unsealed and counted, which—per NLRB procedure—would allow for a second unionization election to take place.
The leftover ballots are set to be re-counted in January. If the votes break overwhelmingly in favor of unionization and change the result of the election, Harvard may file another appeal. If the result remains against unionization, however, the University will be forced to hold another election in the coming months.
Graduate students at Harvard faced other challenges this year, too. Due to budget constraints, Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences reduced the number of admissions slots for graduate students this year by 4.4. percent and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences increased student stipends by much less than usual.