Monday, August 21, 2017

Motion filed concerning club membership

Along with the co-signers listed below, I have submitted the following motion for the October 3 meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.


Harvard College shall not discipline, penalize, or otherwise sanction students for joining, or affiliating with, any lawful organization, political party, or social, political, or other affinity group.

Explanatory note. This motion is intended to give students who join or form legal clubs or similar organizations the same protections that existing policies afford to all other students.  It also secures their right of free association.  If the policy is adopted, students could not, simply because of membership in a legal club, social or political organization, be sanctioned by the Administrative Board or by the Honor Council, or deprived of any academic or extracurricular opportunity or honor for which they would otherwise be eligible.

Boaz Barak
Shaye J. D. Cohen
Kathleen Coleman
Grzegorz Ekiert
James Engell
Benjamin M. Friedman
Daniel Gilbert
Barbara J. Grosz
David Haig
Harry Lewis
Richard Losick
Jason P. Mitchell
Michael Mitzenmacher
Eric M. Nelson
Steven Pinker
Hanspeter Pfister
Wilfried Schmid
Margo Seltzer
Richard Thomas
Helen Vendler
James Waldo

Guest post by Boaz Barak on the social club policy

I thank the committee for their work, but find it unfortunate that two distinct issues have been entangled in this discussion.
One is the issue of promoting Harvard's "values" and in particular diversity and inclusivity, and the other is the issue of student safety.
Regarding the former, I find the suggested policy excessive. Between classes, the houses, and Harvard-sponsored extracurricular activities, we have enough access to the students to educate them as citizens and future leaders. We do not need to control their every waking moment. There is enough work for us to do to lead by example in promoting diversity on campus (in particular in fields such as computer science).
Student safety is paramount - we can't educate students if they are unsafe. Alcohol abuse and sexual assault are real issues that we should combat. Final clubs are not inherently unsafe (for example, to my knowledge, such concerns have not been raised regarding the all-female clubs). Rather it is the *actions* of *some* clubs that are problematic. I think Harvard can and should discipline students for harming fellow students or putting them at risk, whether on or off campus. (For example, by organizing a party in which students are encouraged to drink to excess and sexual assault takes place.) Indeed, in some cases Cambridge PD should be involved as well. But the key point is that we discipline students for their actions and not their associations.
Finally, the issue of sexual assault is far too important to be used as a pretext or vehicle for promoting grand social objectives, no matter how positive. The task force on the prevention of sexual assault had a great number of important recommendations, most of which had nothing to do with final clubs (which, as their report stated are "not the exclusive or even the principal cause of sexual assault").  I find it unfortunate that this issue has become the "tail that wags the dog" and a distraction from the efforts to address what is a real and urgent safety concern.
Boaz Barak, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science 
cross-posted with permission from the FAS Wiki

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Guest Post by Professor Daniel Gilbert on the social club policy

This well-intentioned attempt to promote values that the Harvard community generally shares, such as egalitarianism, tramples on other values that the Harvard community generally shares, such as individual responsibility, freedom of choice and assembly, and so on. The USGSO Committee's letter to the faculty states "Core to our stated aspiration is the need to diminish the role of final clubs, fraternities and sororities and/or equivalent exclusive-membership private social clubs on Harvard's campus." If the last three words of this sentence were true, there would be few objections to the proposal. But they are not true. The committee proposes to punish students for engaging in lawful behavior off campus and not on it. In so doing, the proposal abrogates fundamental rights enjoyed by all American citizens, and treats our students like children whose behavior must be coerced rather than as adults who can and should be making decisions for themselves. There are a host of other things Harvard could consider doing to achieve its goals without resorting to draconian and paternalistic sanctions, and yet sanctions are the first and only thing it has ever tried. In addition, as Prof. Engell noted last year during a faculty meeting, Harvard's 5th statute clearly states that decisions about disciplinary matters rest with the faculty, and not with the President. The faculty, and only the faculty, should decide whether to accept the USGSO Committee's proposal.

Daniel Gilbert
Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology

Cross posted with permission from the FAS Wiki

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Guest post about governance by Professor James Engell

This comment addresses issues of University governance.  The current policy of discipline (“sanctions”) for students entering the College this fall was never voted by the Faculty and cannot be regarded as legitimate.  Any policy regarding discipline (“sanctions”) or prohibitions against certain behaviors should be voted by the Faculty.  This is clearly stipulated by the University Statutes (especially the 5th and 11th Statutes).  This includes any determination to phase out student membership in USGSOs (or other organizations) and effectively to prohibit such membership as a precondition of being a member of the College.  No administrator—Dean or President—has the inherent statutory power to make or change any policy of discipline or sanction.  This power belongs to the Faculty.  If the Faculty permit this particular power to be exercised by some other body or by any administrator without expressly delegating it, then the Faculty will forever cede an important power and will diminish their own standing to effect or change any policy.  Furthermore, any policy that has not been voted and adopted by the Faculty, and thus does not appear in the Handbook for Students, would almost surely be subject to legal challenge if that policy were enforced.  Despite this, even this current website declares, "The President will make the final decision."  This is not shared governance.  Such an assumption of presidential power further diminishes the power of the Faculty.  As such power is further eroded, members of the Faculty will inevitably take less interest in matters that they feel–that they are told--they cannot decide.  Already many colleagues believe that Faculty meetings are too orchestrated and consistently assume a preordained outcome.
The Committee on Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations (the committee) co-chaired by Dean Khurana and Professor Clark is nota faculty committee and should not be called a faculty committee.  It is an administration-faculty-student committee.  (Or it may be called, as the ROTC committee of similar composition was called in the early 1990s, simply a committee.)  I have never heard a committee with such a composition ever before referred to as a “faculty committee.”  Calling it that gives the false impression that all or almost all its members belong to the teaching faculty.  I believe that the report of the committee never refers to the committee itself as a faculty committee.  Of twenty-seven members, eleven are tenured faculty, two are untenured faculty, two Allston Burr assistant deans, six are administrators appointed by various deans or other administrators, and six are students apparently selected by administrators and not elected or selected by their peers as representatives.  This mix of members may be desirable.  However, a committee so composed is not a faculty committee.  In fact, teaching faculty are in a minority unless the Allston Burr assistant deans are counted as teaching faculty (the masthead of the committee does not indicate a teaching appointment for either).  Even if they are counted, then Faculty are in the barest majority.  Despite all this, according to the Crimson (July 21, 2017), a spokesperson for Dean Khurana, Rachael Dane, in an email to the Crimson referred to the committee as “the faculty committee.”
As reference to my remarks at the December 6, 2016, FAS Faculty meeting will indicate, the current policy of sanctioning students, which is a policy of discipline, cannot be regarded as institutionally legitimate.  By extension, despite its good will and work, the Implementation Committee is also illegitimate.  All disciplinary policy and its enforcement comes directly by a vote of the Faculty unless the Faculty delegates it to some other body or person by a vote, or unless in very rare cases there is strong evidence that a student has violated the University policy on Rights and Responsibilities.  That is what the Fifth and Eleventh Statutes of the University clearly and unambiguously state.
The Faculty have never taken a vote on the current policy.  The Administration never presented that policy to the Faculty for a vote, despite several opportunities.
The recommendation of the committee as issued constitutes a form of discipline, too; or if it is argued that it does not, then it forms a sweeping change in the manner in which the College will police and dictate the social lives of students and take action against students (discipline them) if they violate the policy.  Such a change should be voted by the Faculty.
For Dean Smith to say in his charge to the committee that, “Any recommended change to our current policy must be approved by the President of the University” is to abrogate without warrant or precedent whatever mode of shared governance we enjoy.  It also further ensconces the “current policy” as legitimate when it is not.
Dean Smith also stated at a Faculty meeting this spring that the manner in which we are proceeding is what “we have always done.”  With forty years experience on the Faculty and attendance at nearly every FAS Faculty meeting during those decades (when I was not on leave), as well as membership in over three dozen faculty committees (including Faculty Council, twice, and its Docket Committee), as well as committees with students and administrators as equal voting members, including the Committee on College Life in the 1980s at the time when the University and the male final clubs parted ways, I disagree.
In press reports late in 2016, Senior Fellow Lee is quoted as saying, “I think rather than getting into a struggle over who has the right to do what, I think what [Faust] said is we have a shared responsibility to solve these issues.  I think the first major step was the policy,” meaning the current policy of disciplinary sanctions.
The Senior Fellow of the Corporation, a lawyer, thus stated that it is not worth deciding who, or what body, in the University, has the right to do what.  Taken at face value, imagine what that statement means.  He does not reference the Statutes.  They do not favor his view.  The Statutes do not struggle on this matter.  The Statutes are clear.  Only the Faculty as a body has the power to act in this matter.  Yes, we have a shared responsibility to solve these issues.  Yet, the actual power to discipline—“power” is the word in the Statues—is vested in the Faculty.  Mr. Lee thinks the first step should be certain disciplinary sanctions, and that is his opinion.  But such power unambiguously rests with this Faculty.  Otherwise, the Faculty might as well never meet again and simply do whatever the Dean, the President, and the Senior Fellow of the Corporation say should be done, no matter what issue is at stake.  Not even power over the curriculum is granted Faculty privilege in the Statutes equal to the power of the Faculty to determine discipline.
Mr. Lee said, “I think rather than getting into a struggle over who has the right to do what . . . we have a shared responsibility to solve these issues.” Yes, we have that responsibility.  So, why worry who or what body or person has the right to act or to set any policy?  In a weird mirror image of what sometimes—and perhaps even now—occurs in our national polity, why indeed worry?  Why not let the executive do what it wishes—especially if the executive deems that it alone has ultimate power to determine how to “solve these issues”?  As Dean Smith told the committee, “Any recommended change to our current policy [itself a policy never voted upon] must be approved by the President of the University.”  Who cares about precedents, process, Statutes, or the constitutional fabric?  Why not summarily strip flag burners of citizenship and students of fellowship eligibility?  Why bother with written Statutes and honored principles?  Why deliberate?  Why vote?
It is said by some that a vote will come—though perhaps it will be cast procedurally as simply a vote on relatively brief language, perhaps involving multiple changes, in the Handbook, and reserved, as such a vote usually is, for the last FAS faculty meeting of the year, May 2018.  What we need is a vigorous Faculty debate on the current policy of sanctions and on the recommendations of this committee.  We need that debate sooner rather than later.
Town Halls and meetings outside regular Faculty Meetings are no substitute for Faculty debate in Faculty meetings.  Town Halls may be useful, but Town Halls also permit one to say that Faculty have been consulted and heard without actually calling anything to a debate or vote of the Faculty.
The Administration has done much maneuvering to keep Faculty votes from occurring.  Rules of Faculty Procedure were violated in the December 2016 meeting more than once.  That meeting was even adjourned contrary to the Rules of Faculty Procedure.  Professor Haig’s motion this past spring was referred to the committee in a manner extremely rare and only at the behest of the Docket Committee.  His motion concerning oaths (affirmations, pledges—a part of the recommendations of the committee) pertains to the actual though illegitimate current policy, which remains in force, but the committee appears to fail to address directly Professor Haig’s motion in any context other than, it seems, to advocate that the recommendation of the committee not be embodied in an explicit pledge or oath but in language contained in the Handbook.
Finally, if the account of the committee votes and voting procedure given in the Crimson (July 21) is accurate, then there is no basis to believe that a majority or even the largest plurality of the committee voted in favor of what was stated as the recommendation of the committee.  This is deeply disturbing.  Even if one eliminates the four options that received no votes, voting on 6 options when several have significant overlap, and permitting each committee member to vote for more than one option though not at the same time stipulating the exact number of votes that each committee member must cast (two, for example, or three), produces unclear results.  At best the process of voting was so irregular and botched as to be inconsequential or nugatory, giving only the most general impression of committee views; certainly, the process of voting in the committee cannot be regarded as determinative nor as a genuine measure of the varied views of the committee members.  If it is argued that it was “approval voting,” then committee members should have been told that.  And, despite its advocates, approval voting cannot measure the degree of preference that members may have between one option they view as preferable to the status quo versus another option they also view as preferable to the status quo.  At worst, the process of voting may have been designed to obfuscate and make elastic the very act of voting itself in order to permit the declaration of a recommendation that had been determined beforehand by one or both the co-chairs of the committee who knew that such a recommendation had at least some support.  Moreover, neither of the two options that received the most votes became the recommendation of the committee.
James Engell

Professor, FAS

(Updated August 17, 2017 to match final version of the text posted to the FAS Wiki)

Monday, July 31, 2017

More Social Club Press

Two new items in the Boston Globe.

Sage Stossel (AB'93) has a hilariously apt cartoon about Harvard's new social club policy.

And Laura Krantz has a new story up. She had the wits to call Bowdoin and ask them about the comparison Harvard was using to justify its policy. Part of the answer is astonishing.
A spokesman for Bowdoin said that even though Harvard cited the college as a model, no one from Harvard contacted Bowdoin for information. Administrators were perplexed to read about their college in the news.
“Our decision was based on what was right at the time for Bowdoin and not necessarily relevant to what other colleges and universities face today,” college spokesman Scott Hood wrote in an e-mail to the Globe.
Really? The Clark-Khurana committee report presenting the new Harvard policy casually states that it was unlikely Harvard could come up with a better policy than Bowdoin's, and nobody bothered to call Bowdoin?

Bowdoin's policy may or may not have been a success at Bowdoin; there seems to be some difference of opinion about that. But there are many ways in which Harvard's situation does not parallel Bowdoin's, where the fraternities were on campus and residential. Nobody at Harvard is trying to avoid living in the Houses, which house something like 97% of undergraduates, even though not a single undergraduate is required to live on campus after the freshman year.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Social Club Press Roundup

Several articles of interest have appeared in the aftermath of the report of the Clark-Khurana committee, which recommends a total ban on "exclusive" social clubs.

There is no substitute for humor. It's actually too bad that Harvard didn't think of using this weapon against the more ridiculous of the clubs, rather than allowing itself to become the target. Like any good humor piece, this one makes a serious point. The rationales keep changing; the set of affected clubs keeps expanding; but the horror stories in the reports remain the same, because killing off the men's final clubs has always been the real agenda--a conclusion in search of an appropriate premise to imply it, now for more than a year. It cannot be an accident that discussion of sexual assault faded away last year once it became clear that closing down the final clubs could not be justified on that pretext.

By the way, not stated in this piece but certainly implicit is that the slope is indeed slippery. It was asserted repeatedly last fall that sanctioning the single-gender clubs could not possibly be a step down a slippery slope; the original policy had a very narrow and unique target, we were told. We have skidded quite a distance between last May and this July, but there are plenty of arguably obnoxious organizations left for Harvard to bar students from joining. I hope the next time someone asks whether this could be extended to a conservative religious group, we will not again be dismissively told that there is no slippery slope.

This piece, too, is brilliant, in an entirely different way. As it is behind a paywall (it appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education), I will quote just one passage to give the drift.

To quote the great philosopher Clint Eastwood, as Dirty Harry, "a man’s got to know his limitations." The same may be said of a university. Its jurisdiction and authority are rightly bounded by the perimeters of its campus. The certitude of its moral and intellectual prowess does not give it infinite license to control the private lives or thoughts of its students, to manage the affairs of society at large, or to deliver its principles as if tablets from on high. The evangelical zeal of any university, its messianic compulsion to promote progress (as it and it alone would define it), is a sure sign that it misunderstands its core responsibilities: educating its students and demonstrating by word and example the need to respect the rights of others to self-determination, even when adjudged to be wrong. A university on a mission is a dangerous thing in a pluralistic society, a betrayal of the diverse values it purports to represent, and a sure way to alienate those it seeks to enlighten.
The list of examples Gup goes on to cite certainly makes one wonder, as one of my colleagues did with me this morning, whether some future writer will look back on these events and ask, "What were they thinking?"

Seven Votes (Crimson)
This is the blockbuster news story of the year by the Crimson. If correct, and it seems well sourced and no corrections have been added to the story in the two days since it appeared, then the Clark-Khurana committee did not reach nearly so extensive a consensus as the report of that committee suggests. (I do not refer to this as a "faculty committee," since many members were not faculty, and faculty who are not also administrators were in the minority.) The committee members certainly have my sympathy--it's a complicated issue about which it had to reach a conclusion under time pressure and with limited information. (In fact, very little factual information is in the report. I wonder how carefully the policies of other colleges were studied. There are no thanks to people at Bowdoin or Yale who were consulted, no evidence of road trips, and very little if any numerical data.)

From the time I--respectfully and in good faith--withdrew my motion, I have said nothing about the committee or its work, until now. The stunning revelation is the one in the title--that apparently the recommendation for a total ban came out of a single up-or-down vote (described as a straw vote) among ten alternatives. The Crimson reports that seven of the 27 committee members voted in favor of the option that was then reported to be the committee's recommendation. Even middle school students learn not to conduct a vote that way when choosing a team captain--the results are meaningless. And here the vote is being used to radically restructure undergraduate life forever. This is the culmination of a consultative process that was supposed to get us to a unifying end to a year of divisive discussions set off when the policy was announced, out of the blue, as students and faculty were leaving town.

If true, the article confirms all the worst that our critics think of academia: That we come to conclusions first, write fake reports to justify those conclusions, fill them with phony numbers ("small minority") and sanctimonious language about our own moral superiority (really--"pernicious" appears four times), and then claim high moral ground we do not deserve. The sadness of this, unless the article is somehow debunked, is that it sullies the reputations of academics who make other decisions with human consequences--political scientists, climatologists, medical researchers, admissions professionals. It makes us a laughing stock, and that hurts us all.

Harvard alums furious over proposal to ban elite social clubs (New York Post)
I am quoted skeptically about a new argument for banning clubs: Harvard students can't handle being rejected from them. I don't doubt that this upsets people, probably more now than a couple of years ago. (Harvard's constant complaining about how important the clubs are has probably been good for recruiting.) I get it about the stress of competition--in Excellence Without a Soul I quoted one of my assistant deans as saying he loved athletes because "they are the only people here who know how to lose." I am just skeptical about the seriousness of the problem, and that a ban is a remotely sensible response. We are an educational institution, and there is no educational value in protecting students from the consequences of their choices by taking those choices away from them. In any case, I wonder if anybody really cares that much about the stress resulting from trying to get into a club--we seem fine when students get "lotteried by application" out of two or three Gen Ed courses, which they  actually need to take in order to graduate. (The Post had an earlier editorial, Harvard's plan to make sure undergrads never grow up.)

Harvard women's groups frustrated by efforts to ban them (Boston Globe)
This does a good job shifting the attention to the collateral damage done to women's clubs, most of which have little in common with the men's clubs that were the original target. One of the annoying attitudes one hears is that the clubs don't really add anything, so if they get injured in the process of killing off the minority that are widely agreed to be obnoxious, it will still be a win.

A cautionary tale for Harvard on male-only clubs (Boston Globe)
This article draws a parallel between the Harvard ban and a recent case at Wesleyan where a fraternity won a lawsuit against the university. Unfortunately it  seems to miss the point that the new Harvard policy, which is not based on gender, may have been designed to avoid the flaw that made Wesleyan vulnerable. On the other hand, given the chaotic design-making process described in the "Seven Votes" story, that speculation may be giving the Harvard process too much credit.


A year later, after so much has been written and said, I am exactly where I was last May. Students, just like the rest of us, should be able to join any private organization they want. We should all be held accountable for our actions, not for our choice of clubs. There are good reasons why Harvard prohibits us from asking about clubs when we make hiring decisions--because what clubs people belong to is nobody's business but their own. I will return to these thoughts on another occasion.

(updated 7/24 to reflect correction to the last Globe story)