While the latest episode in the months-long social policy saga may be over, the show, according to Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith, is far from done.
In a major victory for administrators, the Faculty voted down a motion intended to counteract the policy at Tuesday’s monthly meeting 130 to 90. It marks the end of more than year of campaigning by former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 to prohibit administrators from penalizing students from joining “lawful” organizations.
But professors will likely take up the issue again in the future as Harvard finalizes its plans for undergraduate social life.
“This is just one phase, one piece of the larger discussion,” he said. “I think we’ll discuss issues around the policy moving forward.”
“I’m glad we finally got to a point where the Faculty voted,” Smith added.
Smith said that future discussion on the social life policy—which starting with the Class of 2021 prohibits students in single-gender final clubs or Greek organizations from holding on-campus leadership positions or receiving recommendation for several postgraduate fellowships—could happen through both formal and informal channels.
A plan for the future will come up at the next meeting of the Faculty Council, the highest governing body of FAS.
“I’m open to taking direction right now from the Faculty to understand which ways would be more productive for the conversation to continue,” he said.
Smith said University President Drew G. Faust will also be involved in further discussions. Faust is currently tasked with choosing to either keep the current penalties or pick from two other options—a outright ban on single gender social organizations, or some other option—presented by a committee tasked with reevaluating the policy.
Smith said Faust has not consulted him about which option to choose, and that he does not know when she will make her decision.
Although the Lewis motion was defeated, Smith said last month that faculty will likely have to approve the final policy when it goes into the student handbook, as is procedure. However, the current policy is not in the handbook.
In an interview, Faust said she didn’t know what needed to go into the handbook and what didn’t. Smith also did not offer a criterion for handbook inclusion.
“This has been of such interest to the Faculty and has such a big impact on the students that something is going to get put in,” Smith said. “But what it is, I couldn’t tell you.”
At the meeting, some Faculty members claimed that the sanctions policy was a form of discipline and therefore under the purview of the Faculty. Smith said that the policy is more complicated than just discipline—legal challenges could also arise.
“There are pressures from the outside world, legal issues and so forth. Certainly as a Faculty member myself I’m not an expert on these legal issues. We need input from the Office of General Counsel,” Smith said. “As much as people would like to say that this is simple and that this is discipline only, nothing I’ve seen would leave me to believe that this is discipline only.”
At their December meeting, faculty will discuss another social policy-related motion, introduced by East Asian Languages and Civilizations professor David L. Howell. The motion moves that the Faculty recognize that basic rights and freedoms may come into conflict with each other at Harvard. Under the Howell motion, in these cases “it is the responsibility of the faculty and administration of Harvard College to establish policies that protect individual freedoms and rights while upholding the educational mission of the College.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Classics professor Richard F. Thomas charged that Howell’s motion would cede power from the faculty to the administration, but Smith said he rejected this characterization.
“I honestly did not understand that comment given the fact that the proposed motion actually said Faculty and administrators,” he said.
Howell's motion will be eligible for a vote in December.
—Staff writer Joshua J. Florence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.
—Staff writer Mia C. Karr can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @miackarr.