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Newsletter > September 2017 > "Harvard Controversy is not Over"
Harvard Controversy is not Over
Tim Burke, Manley Burke, email@example.com
Recent Harvard Crimson articles make it clear that there remains significant uncertainty over what Harvard’s final position will be regarding single sex organizations.
An August 16, 2017 article (“Social Group Ban Recommendation Could be Revised After Faculty, Student Input”) reports that while a final revised report is due to be released on September 25th, consultation with faculty and students could change what it contains. A preliminary version of the expected report recommended that Harvard College forbid students from joining all “fraternities, sororities and similar organizations.” The goal was to phase out these social groups by May of 2022. According to the article, an email sent to faculty members announced three “drop-in meetings” at which faculty could ask questions about the report, to offer constructive criticism of the report, or to share any new ideas faculty may have.”
If the report were adopted containing that prohibition, membership in a single sex fraternal organization could become grounds for expulsion. In August, American University expelled 18 students for membership in an underground rogue fraternity.
Perhaps more importantly is the action outlined in an August 22, 2017 Crimson article “For a Second Time, Faculty File a Motion Against Social Group Sanctions.” Harry R. Lewis, the former Dean of Harvard College, is reported to have submitted a new motion to the faculty to nullify Harvard’s penalty proposed to be imposed on students who join Greek organizations and finals clubs. Twenty-one professors are reported to have joined in the motion which objects to penalizing students for “joining, or affiliating with, any lawful organization, political party, or social, political or other affinity group.” The sponsoring faculty members make it clear that it is their intention to support students in their right of free association.
Lewis and the other professors had withdrawn an earlier version of their motion when the college indicated that the initial policy which would have banned students who joined single-sex finals clubs or fraternities and sororities from campus leadership positions, including captaining athletic teams, and from major scholarship opportunities, was to be reviewed, and could be revised or replaced. But the committee charged by the administration with doing that review doubled down on the original sanctions, proposing that membership in such organizations be outright banned. It appears this proposal, combined with the originally proposed sanctions, caused the professors to reintroduce the motion.
Some of the former single sex organizations have taken steps to comply with the College’s existing directives which go into effect with the incoming freshman class. They will be barred from certain leadership positions and scholarship considerations if they join a single sex finals club or a social fraternal group. Two of the finals clubs, the all-female Bee Club and the all-male Delphic Club will, according to an August 30, 2017 Harvard Crimson article, share membership and a club house. Most recently, a September 5, 2017 Harvard Crimson article reports “Kappa Sigma to Become Gender Neutral”. The article states that the group now known as KS has “disaffiliated from its national organization”. (The Crimson headline and the quote are misleading in that the Supreme Executive Committee of Kappa Sigma Fraternity withdrew the Charter of the Chapter and expelled the members. Kappa Sigma emphasizes that its single sex male membership policy is nonnegotiable in any form or fashion” according to its Executive Director, Mitchell Wilson.) The former Kappa Sigma chapter follows the decision made earlier this year by members of the Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter, who formed a gender neutral group. But that trend is not universal as another finals club, the Fox Club, ended its experiment with coed membership, revoking the provisional memberships that had been granted to 9 women, reverting to an all-male membership as reported in a July 4, 2017 Crimson article. Alpha Epsilon Pi also maintains a single-sex mens group at Harvard.
Harvard has struggled with the justification for the proposed restrictions. First it was to address sexual assaults allegedly associated with Harvard’s finals clubs (a difficult sell because Harvard’s study to justify the proposed penalties relied on the fact that sexual assaults most frequently occurred in the college’s own dormitories. That study essentially ignored fraternal organizations). More recently, Harvard seeks to justify its restrictions on a desire to encourage students not to isolate themselves associating only with students who are like themselves. That may be an admirable goal, but what message is being sent by one of America’s finest undergraduate colleges when its administration takes the position that if a group of students of similar beliefs and interests elects to join together, that they will be deprived of the right to compete for scholarships or captain the girls’ volleyball team, or perhaps be expelled.