Harvard slaps down Final Clubs with leadership ban

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/05/06/harvard-slaps-down-final-clubs-with-leadership-ban/

CAMBRIDGE – Harvard University imposed harsh penalties on off-campus social groups Friday, targeting all-male Final Clubs – some that are centuries old – in the latest attempt by administrators to deal with a purported epidemic of sexual abuse at the Ivy League institution.

Future members of exclusive single-sex social clubs, including fraternities and sororities, will be barred from leadership posts in school-supported groups, including sports teams. They’ll also be passed over in recommendations for prestigious post-graduate fellowships such as the Rhodes and Marshall scholar programs in the U.K., according to letters released Friday by President Drew Faust and Dean Rakesh Khurana detailing the sanctions.

“We do expect leaders of our athletic teams, our recognized student groups, and those seeking a dean’s endorsement to share in the college’s responsibility of fostering a non-discriminatory culture at Harvard,” Khurana said in his letter. The new rules won’t apply to current students or those entering in the fall, but will kick in with the class of 2021 that arrives next year.

Faust and Khurana cited the exclusive nature of the organizations and their lack of gender diversity as the driving force behind the new policy.

“Although the fraternities, sororities, and Final Clubs are not formally recognized by the college, they play an unmistakable and growing role in student life, in many cases enacting forms of privilege and exclusion at odds with our deepest values,” Faust said. “They encourage a form of self-segregation that undermines the promise offered by Harvard’s diverse student body.”

The policy shift is just the latest round in a struggle between administrators and entrenched traditions at one of the nation’s oldest colleges. Harvard broke its formal ties with men-only Final Clubs in 1984 after they refused to admit women. The administrators cited that history in reviewing the reasons for the latest moves.

“But campus culture has not changed as rapidly as student demography,” Faust said. “In recent months, we have been forcefully reminded that diversity is not equivalent to inclusion and belonging,” she wrote. “For us to make progress on this shared endeavor, we must address deeply rooted gender attitudes, and the related issues of sexual misconduct, points underscored by the work of the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Assault.”

A challenge to the policy may be forthcoming, the New York Times reported, citing Richard T. Porteus, the graduate president of the all-male Fly Club. Porteus said legal action could be based on the right of free association, the newspaper reported.

“We value what we’ve created over time,” Porteus said, according to the Times. “We won’t abandon it.”

In comments reported by the Washington Post, Porteus said it appeared that the school may be trying to eliminate older social clubs that own their off-campus properties.


School administrators put the all-male Final Clubs in the crosshairs earlier this year after a campus task force fingered the social organizations over purported links to sexual assaults involving undergraduates. Some club officials have protested, saying the report’s findings are based on a flawed survey rather than a more rigorous examination of facts.

In its report, the task force noted the survey indicated that 1-in-5 Harvard women said they had experienced unwanted sexual conduct during their four years at the school and pointed out that “the vast majority of sexual assaults in the college occur in the Houses and freshman dormitories.” But it also said that “female Harvard College students participating in Final Club activities are more likely to be sexually assaulted than participants in any other of the student organization.”

Final Clubs, some more than 200 years old, aren’t formally affiliated with the school and are housed in off-campus properties they typically own and maintain. While there are five all-female Final Clubs and six just for men, there are also two that are co-ed. The sanctions outlined Friday also apply to the five all-male fraternities and four all-women sororities that serve Harvard students and are also based off-campus.

Members of the task force recommended that single-sex social groups either go co-ed or face a ban from the college to prevent new students from joining. At about the same time, Khurana threatened to punish those that failed to abandon their gender exclusivity. Leaders of one, the all-male Porcellian Club, established in the 18th century, objected and commissioned its own analysis of the sex-assault survey that served as the basis for the task force’s findings.

The Porcellian’s analyst questioned the task force report, particularly the conclusion that 47 percent of female students involved in male Final Clubs fell victim to unwanted sexual contact.

“We are disappointed with this unfair and punitive decision that attacks Harvard’s own students because they make a choice to freely assemble at unaffiliated, off-campus, private organizations,” members of the Porcellian Club said in a statement reported by the Washington Post.

Campus rights advocates slammed the school’s move.

“Harvard’s decision simply demonstrates that it is willing to sacrifice students’ basic freedom of association to the whims of whoever occupies the administrative suites today,” Harvey Silverglate, a co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and a noted civil liberties lawyer in Boston, said on the advocacy group’s website. “Who’s to say that Harvard’s leaders five years from now won’t decide that Catholics or Republicans should be blacklisted because they might not line up with Harvard’s preferred values?”

In his letter Friday, Khurana cast a jaundiced eye at the elitist nature of the single-sex groups’ membership practices. Private, unrecognized, gender-segregated student organizations go against Harvard’s “educational philosophy and its commitment to a diverse living and learning experience,” he wrote, and singled out the men-only clubs, arguing that they undercut “campus culture” and negatively affect the school’s image.

“We have heard heart-felt statements from students about the benefits they have experienced by belonging to a Final Club, fraternity or sorority, and we are not questioning their experiences,” Khurana said. But, he added, “their fundamental principles are antithetical to our institutional values.”

Khurana recommended setting up a committee of faculty, students and administrators to determine the best way to implement the sanctions. School officials will work with student groups willing to drop gender exclusivity. They also will boost spending on university-sponsored social opportunities for students, Khurana said.

Faust asked Khurana to review of the policies annually to determine whether further steps are needed.