Lewis Unsure if He Will Continue Fighting Sanctions

{shortcode-44d878bab61c56e47913697fc7fc64c11873e2ff}Former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68—a longtime, vocal opponent of Harvard’s penalties on members of single-gender social groups—said he is unsure if he will continue the fight after the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted down his motion designed to nullify the sanctions earlier this month.

“I am going to wait and see what happens before I decide what to do,” Lewis said in an interview Tuesday. “I’m trying to get some other things done that I’ve been trying to get done during what was supposed to be a sabbatical.”

Lewis said he hopes the administration will take “significant Faculty concerns into account” in deciding how to proceed with the sanctions. The College’s roughly year-old social group policy, which took effect with the Class of 2021, bars members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations from campus leadership positions, varsity athletic team captaincies, and certain prestigious fellowships.

At their monthly Faculty meeting on Nov. 7, professors voted by paper ballot on a motion introduced by Lewis stating that the College shall not “discipline, penalize, or otherwise sanction students” for joining “any lawful organization.” 130 professors voted against the motion, while 90 supported it.

The vote marked a major victory for administrators who have defended the policy against criticism from faculty and students for almost two years.


“I was disappointed, but we had 90 colleagues who through their votes expressed strong skepticism because it was a very strong motion,” Lewis said of the vote. “I hope that will give the administration some pause as they consider how they will move forward.”

The sanctions could change. University President Drew G. Faust is currently considering a set of three recommendations: maintain current penalties for members of single-gender social organizations, ban membership in unrecognized groups outright, or consider “some other possible solutions.” Faust has said she will make a decision on the social group policy before she steps down in June 2018.

Lewis said he thinks his efforts to combat the policy sparked a needed debate over what Harvard’s role should be in regulating undergraduate social life. He said he has been fighting to minimize administrative oversight since he was an undergraduate.

“That was our battle that we fought in ’68 and ’69, to get the University to stop thinking that it was the parent that managed the social life, the private lives of its students,” he said. “So, it’s a little bit of a time warp to have younger Faculty stand up and say, we are the parents, we, Harvard, are the students’ parents while they’re here, and we have to make sure that they do things the right way.”

In an interview earlier this month, Harvard Corporation senior fellow William F. Lee ’72 said he thinks Faust’s replacement will likely keep the College’s current sanctions largely unaltered. Lee is the chair of the search committee tasked with selecting Harvard’s next president.

“It’s very unlikely that they’re going to have a radically different view than we have on things like the single-gender organizations,” Lee said of the University’s 29th president.

Looking ahead, Lewis said he hopes the Faculty and Harvard’s next president will be able to quickly settle the fate of the College’s social group policy. Lewis said he would like to see the Faculty focus on more academic matters.

“We haven’t talked at all about anything intellectual, so I would like to see us follow through on the promise from two or three years ago that we are actually going to look at the quality of the undergraduate intellectual and undergraduate experience, the quality of teaching, the quality of attention that we give undergraduates in various degree programs,” Lewis said.

—Staff writer Kristine E. Guillaume can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @krisguillaume.


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