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.


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

1 comment:

  1. Dear Professor Lewis,

    Thank you for leading the effort to defeat the sanctions, I know that many students quietly endorse everything you say. It seems to me that Professor Menand (whom I deeply respect) doesn’t differentiate between discrimination that takes place on campus and discrimination that takes place outside of it.

    It is ridiculous that the Black Men’s Forum has to, in theory, accept white women — but Harvard at least has a mandate and recognized clubs use Harvard space and funding. Who is to say, however, that Harvard can dictate what I (legally) do off campus? Oh I know the other side emphasize that final clubs are de facto on campus organizations but there is a very clear distinction.

    Does Harvard even have a right to know what I do off campus? Who I meet up with? Where we go? Am I obligated to inform Harvard when asked? What will be the standard of proof if I’m brought before the AdBoard? Students’ privacy hasn’t really been discussed with regard to the sanctions, but it is important to reaffirm that students have the right to private lives off-campus — yes, even when they involve other Harvard students!

    If all it takes to circumvent the sanctions is admitting members from other universities, I am sure my sorority will have no problem inducting a token Yalie, I am just sad that there is so much more at stake.

    — A grateful student.