A Challenge to Harvard’s Social Club Crackdown

Harvard’s new policy on social clubs, penalizing student members of single-sex clubs, has run into faculty opposition. Under the policy, students in the class of 2021 and beyond cannot simultaneously be a member of a single-sex final club or Greek organization and hold club leadership positions or athletic team captaincies, or be recommended for Rhodes Scholarships or certain postgraduate fellowships. The statement and motion below by Harry R. Lewis, former Dean of Harvard College and an opponent of the new policy, was delivered October 3 at a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The motion will be put to a vote on November 7.  –Editor

I move: Harvard College shall not discipline, penalize, or otherwise sanction students for joining, or affiliating with, any lawful organization, political party, or social, political, or other affinity group.

This is a simple motion. It says Harvard College can’t punish students for joining a club. It does NOT say that students who belong to clubs can’t be punished for bad things they do. It does NOT take away any tool that has been used in the past to discipline students for their behavior. It would, however, block several social club policies that have been proposed over the past year and a half.

I cannot find a single case prior to May 2016 when Harvard said it would punish a student for joining any organization — a club or anything else. To the contrary, when Harvard barred ROTC from campus, we explicitly rejected the idea of punishing ROTC students for joining a discriminatory organization. And in the 1950s, when Senator McCarthy called on Harvard to fire Wendell Furry of the Physics Department for being a member of the Communist Party, President Pusey refused to do so, on principle, in spite of enormous political pressure and his own anti-Communist sentiments. Harvard today holds the moral high ground. We would give it up if we were to adopt any policy that would punish students for joining a club.

Some who are concerned about my motion have asked me, “but what if a student joins X”—and then names some particularly odious national organization. Well, we have survived a long time without any rules against joining hated organizations. This is not the time to institute such a rule in order to crush some off-campus sorority.

Students should not give up their rights to assemble peaceably off campus when they enroll here any more than they give up their rights to read, write, and say what they wish. Indeed, by becoming students, they do not give up their rights to have private lives. All these freedoms are fundamental to our educational mission.

I beg you; this is not a trivial matter. Students engaged in unlawful or violent behavior should pay the price for what they do. But nobody should be punished just for joining a club. Not us, and not our students. Thank you.


  • Harry R. Lewis

    Harry R. Lewis is a computer scientist and mathematician known for his research in computational logic, textbooks in theoretical computer science, and writings on computing, higher education, and technology. He is the Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University and was Dean of Harvard College from 1995 to 2003.

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2 thoughts on “A Challenge to Harvard’s Social Club Crackdown

  1. Any “lawful” organization? Massachusetts still has a law declaring “subversive organizations” to be unlawful and declaring the Communist Party to be a subversive organization. Sure, the Commonwealth does not enforce these laws today. I don’t know if they ever did (but I assume so). The laws were products of their times, and in these times it is no stretch to imagine the Massachusetts legislature amending its laws to declare certain single-sex clubs or national organizations to be “unlawful.”

    No, as the case of Wendell Furry attests, what matters isn’t the text of a formal law or resolution (the MA anti-communist law was on the books back then) but the spirit and resolution of the faculty and administration. Your predecessor, though a staunch anti-Communist as you say, subordinated both the law and his own beliefs to a higher belief. It required no resolution from a former president to make him do so. But men like that are not in charge of Harvard today. The law did not prevent Pusey from doing what he knew to be right and your resolution will not prevent Harvard administration from doing what they know to be right. The problem is that Harvard administration’s (and faculty’s) knowledge of what is right is hopelessly compromised by their utter lack of knowledge. This is the faculty that censured Larry Summers after all. Your resolution may pass and nothing will change. Harvard has ruined itself, likely beyond repair. I am a Harvard alum and I would not let my child attend that institution today. The single-sex club matter is just one of many that indicate the institution’s decay. Have you ever seen an elm forest consumed by blight? That is the spectacle of American institutions of higher learning today.

    1. At one time i was on the faculty there .If old John Harvard ever knew that. Harvard was involving itself or promoting sex clubswell.I shudder to think what his response would be.

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