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.


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