Former College Dean Attacks Social Group Penalties in Washington Post Op-Ed

Former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 penned a Washington Post op-ed attacking Harvard’s penalties on members of unrecognized single-gender social groups Friday, again calling the policy an “effort to subordinate freedom of association and freedom of speech.”

Lewis’s op-ed took issue with what he called administrators’ justification for the policy, as well as certain aspects of its planned enforcement. He argued that the “current rationale for punishing single-gender groups is that they are discriminatory,” citing a comment Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana made in a Feb. 2017 interview with The Boston Globe.{shortcode-9d864a7c09268ff15ed4b112961c64e94296a3df}

In his op-ed, Lewis, who has repeatedly criticized the social group policy, disparaged Khurana’s reasoning, referring to the Dean of the College as “a university official.”

“Problems that the policy was initially supposed to address—sexual assault, elitism, drunken parties—have fallen away under scrutiny, leaving gender exclusivity as the clubs’ irreducible sin,” Lewis wrote. “Using ‘nondiscrimination’ as a cudgel against students’ private associations is odiously patronizing.”

The College’s social group policy, set to take effect with the Class of 2021, bars members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations from receiving certain fellowships and holding various leadership positions and athletic team captaincies. When University President Drew G. Faust first announced the penalties in May 2016, administrators framed the policy in part as an attempt to address issues of sexual assault on campus; in recent months, however, Harvard officials have shifted their public stance and now list gender inclusivity as the primary motivation for the sanctions.


Lewis’s op-ed closely mirrors language from a Faculty motion he helped introduce in May 2016, which also critiqued the policy. Lewis withdrew that motion in January after Khurana announced the creation of a faculty committee that could revise or replace the social group penalties.

Lewis also critiqued administrators’ plans to implement the penalties in his op-ed, in particular targeting a recommendation that all-female social groups receive an extended timeline to become co-ed.

“The ‘unwavering’ institutional commitment to nondiscrimination will be implemented in a curiously and perhaps unlawfully discriminatory manner,” Lewis wrote of the recommendation Friday.

In March, a committee tasked with suggesting how to enforce the College’s sanctions proposed that female final clubs and sororities be allowed to operate with a “gender focused mission” for the next three to five years. In an email to undergraduates announcing the committee’s report March 6, Khurana wrote that he planned to accept that proposal.

In its 46-page report, the committee also recommended that students who seek leadership positions, captaincies, or fellowships be required to sign a written statement affirming their commitment to “nondiscrimination” and asserting they do not belong to a single-gender final club or Greek organization.

Lewis characterized the proposed oath-taking as “McCarthyesque.”

“Could Harvard today require oaths about club memberships but resist if the government required students to swear that they are lawfully on U.S. soil?” Lewis asked in his op-ed.

Lewis has been a constant and vocal opponent of the policy since its inception. He first expressed reservations about the penalties in a May 2016 letter to Khurana, warning the sanctions could have negative consequences for the student body.

Lewis has openly criticized the penalties to students in his Computer Science class, to colleagues in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Faculty Council, and to the general public in a number of posts on his personal blog.

Lewis announced earlier this year that he will retire on July 1, 2020.

—Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.

—Staff writer Derek G. Xiao can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @derekgxiao


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