Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Further Q&A on the motion for the December 6 meeting

I should have posted this earlier -- this is the document I made available to the Faculty before the meeting.

I am not sure it is progress, but the meeting may have brought out a clear point of disagreement. Professor Menand said, "Of course we can discriminate against people who discriminate." He was greeted with applause, but is he actually right? To make this statement fit the present circumstances, you have to declare any member of a gender-discriminatory organization to be a person who discriminates. But that means that Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews, all of them, are by definition people who discriminate, since organizations to which they belong do not treat women equally. So by this logic, Harvard would be within its rights to say with equal indignation, "No Roman Catholic may receive a Rhodes endorsement."

More another day after Harvard Magazine's more complete report is up.

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Further Q&A in support of the Nondiscrimination Motion, subsequent to November 1 FAS meeting

Q: Why didn’t you just make a motion against the policy?
A: The faculty should not legislate at that level. An ad hoc motion about the single-gender student organization policy would suggest that the Faculty is well informed about the problems the policy is designed to solve. We have no report about sororities, fraternities, and final clubs on the basis of which to make a recommendation about how to handle the problems they create, or even to understand fully what those problems are. We felt that the policy as announced is inconsistent with an important institutional principle, and our motion establishes that principle. That principle is something that this Faculty is competent to affirm or reject.

Q: Aren’t students in favor of the policy?
A:  In a recent poll to which 3000 students responded, nearly twice as many favored repealing the policy as favored retaining it. In the recent electoral campaign for the presidency of the Undergraduate Council, three out of the four tickets, including the winning ticket, opposed the policy. The recently released compendium of anonymous, scattershot student comments is hardly a basis for considered action or for punishing individual students.

Q: You think that the Faculty should have been involved in developing this policy, but weren’t the decisions to sever ties with the final clubs and to randomize the assignment of students to the Houses decided without faculty involvement?
A: No, the Faculty was heavily involved in both those decisions. The 1984 decision to sever ties with the final clubs was made (after extensive prior deliberation) by the Committee on College Life, an ancestor of the Committee on Student Life. That committee was a subcommittee of the Faculty Council, and therefore consisted of elected representatives of the Faculty, augmented by elected student representatives. Randomization was proposed first by the Standing Committee on Athletic Sports under the leadership of Professor John Dowling, and then in 1994 by an ad hoc senior faculty committee (the Committee on the Structure of Harvard College), and was implemented by Dean Jewett only following discussion in the Committee on House Life, the Faculty Council, and the full Faculty. Historically, the faculty has been involved in such major policy discussions about student life.

Q: Does this issue really require more study? Don’t we know enough about the trouble these clubs cause?
A: It is true that the final clubs, and the troubles some cause, have been under discussion for years. We know also that some do not allow women on the premises, so punishing their members would probably have limited impact on sexual assault or out-of-control parties. On the other hand, almost no information is available about most of the organizations affected by the policy—the sororities, the fraternities, and the female final clubs. The only statement on the record to explain the extension to sororities of the sanctions against the male final clubs hardly seems adequate justification for infringing students’ civil liberties: “The College believes that the policy is the right one for the long-term needs of the community.” One does not need to anticipate book burnings in Harvard Yard to be troubled by that assertion of arbitrary authority over students’ private choices. We would certainly hope that graduates who go on to careers in government will use better evidence and reasoning when shaping public policies that limit individual choice.

Q: Regardless of their behavior, isn’t their exclusivity reason enough to take action against these clubs?
A: The concepts of “inclusivity” and “exclusivity” are more pliable than they may seem. Women in overwhelmingly male academic departments report that their sororities provide an opportunity to relax with women after being surrounded by and instructed by men in their classes. They resist as hypocritical the implication that they, and not Harvard, are the ones guilty of gender-exclusivity. Harvard supports a large number of de facto single-gender organizations, from the Women’s Center to the Black Men’s Forum. According to the Crimson, the College has assured a female final club that modifying its by-laws to permit the election of men will suffice for the club to be considered inclusive, even if no man is ever elected. Women who resign from blacklisted all-Harvard sororities and join a Harvard-MIT sorority instead would no longer be violating Harvard’s “inclusivity” standard. Real inclusivity is too important to be reduced to such absurdities.

Q: Isn’t voting for this motion going to be taken as an endorsement of the final clubs?
A: The motion simply restores the status quo ante. Decisions in civil liberties cases often bring profoundly mixed feelings. Important principles may have consequences that make us uncomfortable. To oppose the motion because favoring it will be interpreted as favoring clubs we despise is like opposing the First Amendment because favoring it may be interpreted as being in favor of flag-burning. We can be in favor of the motion and in favor of the First Amendment without being in favor of the final clubs and flag-burning. We believe that associations of which we disapprove, like ideas of which we disapprove, should be identified carefully and combatted with reason (and, where appropriate, the force of law) rather than bans and punishments.

Q: Is this even a matter for the FAS to decide?
A: The president’s response to Professor Thomas’s question at the November 1 FAS meeting was puzzling and troubling. To be sure, we believe in shared governance, and in fact that is what we hope for. Policies about single-gender organizations should be worked out cooperatively by faculty, students and the university administration. It is, however, not shared governance for the president and dean to announce policies and then share merely the implementation details with the Faculty. The best route forward is for the policy to be withdrawn so that we can, collegially and with input from students, faculty, deans, and the administration, understand the problems and develop well-targeted responses which the Faculty can duly consider and support. We offered to withdraw our motion if the policy were withdrawn for proper consideration of the problems it was meant to address, with any alternative policy to go through the normal FAS governance process as described above in the third Q&A, but that offer was refused. All that having been said, if the president insists on a College policy with which the Faculty disagrees, the Statutes are clear about jurisdiction—responsibility lies with the Faculty.


Harry Lewis, for the December 6, 2016 FAS meeting

My remarks to the FAS meeting of December 6, 2016

The meeting ended without a vote being taken, so the matter will be held over until the February meeting. Below are my remarks. I will comment on what others said once those remarks have been made public.

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Madam President: On behalf of 11 faculty colleagues as well as myself, I move that Harvard College shall not discriminate against students on the basis of organizations they join, nor political parties with which they affiliate, nor social, political or other affinity groups they join, as long as those organizations, parties, or groups have not been judged to be illegal.

This is a simple motion. It says that students should not be punished for joining a club. If you agree with that proposition, you should vote for the motion.

Contrary to the impression that may have been created by the student speakers at the last meeting, students are opposed to the policy about single gender organizations by a nearly 2 to 1 ratio. There are indeed many students who are rightly concerned about the final clubs and their effect on the student community, but in the recent electoral campaign for the presidency of the Undergraduate Council, 3 out of the 4 tickets were opposed to the policy, including the ticket that won. Which raises an interesting question. The newly elected president of the UC is herself a member of an unrecognized women’s club. Should that happen a few years from now, would the College really move to unseat or delegitimize the freely elected president of the student government? What would that teach our students about “Harvard’s values”?

I address some recent counter-arguments in the second Q&A, which was prepared for this meeting, so I can be quite brief today.

Some argue that the motion is overly broad. To the contrary, the motion does nothing at all except to restore the status quo ante May of this year, when the sanctions against members of certain clubs were announced. No one has provided a counterexample since I said this a month ago: Harvard has never in modern times punished students for joining a club. And multiple Harvard precedents support this principle. It seems very odd, for example, to punish students for doing something that Harvard explicitly prohibits us from asking job candidates about: Do you belong to the wrong club?

Some argue that the sanctions are not punishment, but merely deprive students of a privilege. That twists words in a manner worthy of Lewis Carroll. If you are a stellar student who has earned the profound respect of your professors and your peers, and you join a sorority, of course it is punitive for Harvard to say you can’t be a Rhodes candidate, or captain of the softball team, or president of the Democratic Club, or even of the all-female Radcliffe Pitches. And of course, such a punishment constitutes discrimination on the basis of club membership. If Harvard refused to endorse black students for Rhodes Scholarships, that would be racial discrimination. If Harvard refuses to endorse club members for Rhodes Scholarships, that will be discrimination on the basis of belonging to a club. I know Professor Helen Vendler plans to pursue this point.

It is absurd to suggest that this motion is unclear or that it is badly worded. The only lack of clarity arises from the president’s refusal to give a straightforward answer to Professor Thomas’s question at the last meeting as to whether she would honor the faculty vote.

The Faculty should understand that although the policy announced last May is touted as a response to problems of misogyny and sexual assault, it would be utterly ineffective in that regard—a point I know Professor Barbara Grosz hopes to address. In fact, the majority of students who would stand to be punished are women—the members of sororities and the women’s final clubs, who outnumber men in comparable organizations. It is argued in response that women don’t need those clubs because Harvard has its own approved women’s clubs—which are if anything even better, since they admit men! Surely that does not justify punishing women simply for joining their own clubs. I know Professor Margo Seltzer wishes to speak to this point.

We are an educational institution. Our best and most natural strategy on any contentious matter is always to teach the truth. We hear that the proposed sanctions against single-gender organizations are needed because everything else has been tried, but how can that be? The final clubs are said to be unsafe but the College hasn’t warned women to stay away from them. It also hasn’t advised men to avoid discriminatory associations that may in their later lives compromise their career prospects. I know Professor Barbara Barbara Grosz wishes to address whether this policy is even a serious attempt to combat sexual assault. And we have an opportunity here to teach our students how decisions should be made about important social issues, how to identify the problem clearly and specifically and then collaboratively develop a well targeted solution. A properly charged group of students and faculty could come up with a way to solve our actual problems without infringing anyone’s personal freedoms.

Which brings us to the governance question. The statutes clearly state that the College, and specifically discipline of students, are under the jurisdiction of this body. The alarm that went off when the president and the dean announced the new policy last May without properly consulting the faculty was not silenced when the president declined to give a clear answer to Professor Thomas’s question. The Senior Fellow’s recent statement to the Crimson that the sanctions were in place to stay only exacerbated the alarm about who was in charge of discipline of undergraduates—a point on which I know Professor James Engell wishes to expand.

Finally, I was informed last night, on the eve of this meeting and more than six months after submitting this motion, that the Docket Committee will move to postpone this motion indefinitely. I want to be sure that the Faculty understands what a motion for indefinite postponement entails. According to Robert’s Rules, and I quote, a “motion to Postpone Indefinitely is in effect an indirect rejection of the main motion.” There is nothing more to it than that. Robert’s Rules state that a motion for indefinite postponement “opens the merits of the main question to debate to as great an extent as if the main question were before the assembly.” In other words, the motion to postpone indefinitely will be simply another vote on our motion, except that you have to remember to vote no on the motion to postpone if you support our motion. And if the motion to postpone is defeated, as I hope it will be, then you have to vote yes when our motion comes to a vote. A vote on a motion to postpone is equivalent to a vote on the original motion, only with yes and no reversed. That is, the motion to postpone indefinitely will not change the debate at all, but will require us to have two successive secret ballots rather than one.

Colleagues, I regret this waste of your time. In fact, I regret that I am making this motion at all and that we are holding this debate. My co-sponsors and I have tried repeatedly to spare the Faculty this unpleasant spectacle.  We have offered to withdraw our motion if the President would simply agree to rescind the sanctions and remand the important issue of how to deal with the final clubs to an appropriate student-faculty committee.  For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, this offer has been declined.  The President herself has now stated publicly that the policy is imperfect and that she would welcome constructive discussion of alternatives.  Since this meeting of the full Faculty is obviously not the proper forum in which to explore and carefully vet such alternatives, the way forward we suggested, for the president to withdraw the sanctions and remand the matter to an appropriate committee, seems clearly to be the right one.  But here we are. If the president insists on a vote, then vote we must.  A basic principle of our academic society now asks to be reaffirmed, and we hope that you will choose to reaffirm it.


Madam President, junior colleagues who are present, among others, will understandably be reluctant to oppose the administration publicly on this matter. So that they can vote their conscience, I will at the appropriate time ask for paper ballots on both the forthcoming postponement motion and on our original motion.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Why History Matters

In a Crimson interview, Sanctions Could Be Subject to Change, Faust Says, President Faust starts out on a very promising note in discussing her policy about single-gender social organizations. “The way I talk about is I say, ‘here’s the problem, and now how do we figure out the solution.'" That is exactly right. It is what should  have happened but did not. Define the problem, and ask a group of faculty to come up with a solution, in consultation with students and administrative staff. It should have happened already. It still can happen. It should happen.

Unfortunately, the president gives no indication in the interview that she would rescind her single-gender student organization policy or suspend its implementation to give time a group to devise a better one. She seems, in fact, quite skeptical that this sort of thing is within faculty purview at all.
To Government professor Eric M. Nelson ’99—who expressed frustration that Faculty members were not consulted before the policy was rolled out—Faust responded that, to her understanding, the Faculty has not traditionally been involved in shaping undergraduate life and played little role in decisions like the derecognition of the final clubs in the 1980s and the randomization of House assignments in the late 1990s.


This is account of the history is wholly, utterly wrong. The faculty were directly involved in both decisions. In fact, the deans of that era would not have dared make such policy decisions without a thorough faculty vetting.

According to the Crimson of December 11, 1984, the severance of the final clubs from the College occurred at a meeting of the Committee on College Life, an ancestor of the Committee on Student Life. The CCL was a standing student-faculty committee formed pursuant to the Dowling legislation. As the Crimson reports,
the 12 member committee, consisting of five students and five faculty as well as [Dean of Students Archie C.] Epps and [Dean of Harvard College John] Fox, unanimously recommended that the College expedite the separation.
 As I recall, this separation was but the end of a long process of consultations with faculty and students that had begun in 1977 with the "non-merger merger" of Harvard and Radcliffe. There were many, many faculty consultations along the way. It was not a voting matter for the Faculty as a corporate body, but the Faculty, through its elected representatives, was involved in shaping the outcome. The final decision was an executive decision by the dean of the College -- but he was acting on the recommendation of the duly constituted student-faculty committee.

The Faculty was even more involved in the randomization decision. The decision to randomize the housing assignments was developed and recommended by the Committee on the Structure of Harvard College -- an ad hoc committee of very distinguished faculty that met in 1993 and 1994 and consulted widely with faculty, students, and administrators before issuing its report. A poor scan of the committee's report is posted here. In fact, the committee had a very broad mandate -- essentially to review the College and its structure. The committee itself identified self-segregation as a problem and proposed randomization as the solution, after considering a number of alternatives. The so-called Lewis-Maull Committee (Dean Nancy Maull co-chaired with me) included as members J. Woodland Hastings (Paul C. Mangelsdorf Professor of Natural Sciences, Master of North House); Akira Iriye (Charles Warren Professor of American History); David Pilbeam (Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences); Peter J. Gomes (Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Minister in the Memorial Church); Richard J. Herrnstein (Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology); Paul C. Martin (John Hasbrouck van Vleck Professor of Pure and Applied of Physics, Dean of the Division of Applied Sciences); Barbara Rosenkrantz (Professor of the History of Science, Emcrita); and Theda Skocpol (Professor of Sociology). Its recommendation to randomize the Houses went, with a lot of moral weight behind it, first to the Committee on House Life (later merged with the Committee on College Life to form the present Committee on Student Life), then to the Faculty Council; then to the full Faculty for discussion; before finally being implemented by Dean of the College Fred Jewett. (In an ironic twist, Dean Jewett actually did not implement the policy as it was recommended -- he failed to control for gender ratio in each House. That proved to be a disaster the very first year, and that control, which had been recommended in the College Structure report, was put in place for subsequent years.)

So twenty or thirty years ago, the Faculty was deeply involved in policy-making with respect to undergraduate life. Indeed the Faculty's interest in such matters is the reason why the Faculty annually votes the entire Handbook for Students, not just the academic rules.

The President is wrong to suggest that it is now incumbent on the faculty opposing the motion to devise alternatives in the next three weeks: 
In the interview Thursday, Faust said the next meeting in December would be an opportunity for concerned professors to propose alternatives to the controversial policy.
Alternatives should be devised cooperatively, by faculty, students, and the administration, by a well-informed, smaller group, in a thoughtful, collegial, deliberative process. The full faculty does not have the facts available to it and it has been given no background with which to debate the importance of restricting sororities, fraternities, and final clubs. The proposed policy was not developed in three weeks, nor was it thrashed out in a room with hundreds of people; no alternative proposal should be slapped together on that time scale in preparation for an unwieldy debate.

I wholly agree with the President's preference for shared governance. So let's again govern Harvard that way -- appoint and charge a group to come up with a proposal and then have it vetted through the properly constituted Faculty governance committees -- exactly as was done in 1984 and 1994, and exactly what was not done with the matter at hand.