Harvard faculty committee recommends Greek, other clubs be eliminated

In a continued effort to reduce discrimination among campus groups, a Harvard University faculty committee has recommended fraternities, sororities and other exclusive clubs be shut down and students not be allowed join them, even though they are already off campus and lack university recognition.

Harvard’s decision comes at a time of scrutiny for Greek systems and demands they combat drinking and sexist treatment of women. The Harvard proposal, however, goes farther than most, calling for the elimination of Greek chapters and clubs that only admit men or women.

The report from a committee of Harvard professors and administrators calls for students to be barred from Greek organizations and final clubs, which are already not affiliated with the university, with the intent to phase them out entirely by 2022.

This follows a policy last year from Harvard President Drew G. Faust that drew significant backlash from Greek life and supporters of the storied final clubs.

Faust announced students who joined these organizations would be blocked from holding leadership positions in other campus clubs or on athletic teams. Certain academic opportunities would also be limited — students could not receive a recommendation from the college dean for prestigious scholarships. She acted based on reports of harassment of women at club events.

Should Faust accept the guidance from the committee, which was formed to study the issue of “unrecognized single-gender organizations,” this rule would be eliminated and replaced with the new, stricter policy.

“A year has passed since the announcement of renewed action by the university to address the pernicious influence of these organizations, yet it appears many of them wish to wait it out. Some have even responded with an increased zest for exclusion and gender discrimination. This leads the committee to believe that, without strong decisive action, little positive change is likely to occur,” the report reads.

The committee does note that some of the groups moved to be coeducational, but said that even if membership of all the organizations were to become gender neutral, some of their practices are still counter to the university’s principles.

A proposed policy is modeled off those at both Williams College and Bowdoin College. Williams students cannot join a fraternity — they face punishment up to expulsion, a policy that has existed since 1962. A similar rule was enacted at Bowdoin in 1997.

Draft language for Harvard’s policy is as follows:

“Harvard students may neither join nor participate in final clubs, fraternities or sororities, or other similar private, exclusionary social organizations that are exclusively or predominantly made up of Harvard students, whether they have any local or national affiliation, during their time in the college. The college will take disciplinary action against students who are found to be participating in such organizations. Violations will be adjudicated by the administrative board.”

The administrative board also judges students who may have committed student conduct code violations.

Also under consideration was a policy similar to Princeton University's, which prohibits freshmen from trying to join a fraternity or sorority. The committee considered this a “half measure” that did not effect positive change in the same way.

The report contains an unsigned letter from a Harvard student who participated in one of the final clubs — the student said that the organizations encourage inequity, and advocated for their abolishment.

“Admittedly, many organizations are exclusive. But not all forms of exclusion are equivalent. The benefits of selective admissions arguably outweigh the costs of exclusion. Being surrounded by a limited number of diverse and talented peers allows students to learn from each other and form close friendships. If Harvard succeeds in its mission to educate ‘citizens and citizen leaders’ to build companies, lead governments, treat patients and teach students, society benefits,” the letter reads.

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One member of the committee, professor of biology David Haig, wrote in a dissenting opinion that the committee only relied on testimony from students opposed to such clubs.

“I have received numerous comments from present and former, male and female, students describing the positive contribution of the clubs to a sense of belonging at Harvard and relatively few comments supporting the sanctions,” Haig wrote.

Representatives from groups that would be affected by the change could not be reached for comment but are likely to be displeased, as when Faust first announced the original policy in May 2016.

The free speech group the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sharply criticized both the first announcement and the new recommendation.

FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley said in an interview Wednesday that the recommendation opens the door for students to be treated like “academic criminals,” simply for trying to congregate with like-minded people.

“It’s about freedom of association — there will always be organizations that somebody objects to, social or political, religious organizations, but when you sent the precedent of total control of the social lives of students, you’ve opened the door,” he said. “And apparently they’ve got to be punished.”

Shibley would not comment if FIRE would pursue legal action, but said it would work with Harvard students and faculty, many of whom dislike the actions the university has taken, he said.

A spokeswoman for the all-male Porcellian Club had also blasted the Faust’s initial rule in The Washington Post.

“We are disappointed with this unfair and punitive decision that attacks Harvard’s own students because they make a choice to freely assemble at unaffiliated, off-campus, private organizations,” the spokeswoman told the Post.

The recommendation will eventually be presented to Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith, and then Faust.

Source: Inside Higher Education – News

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