The Roman poet Juvenal once posed the question, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Or, as it’s generally said in English, “Who watches the watchmen?”
In light of recent developments in the saga of Harvard University’s proposed sanctions against members of single-gender social organizations originally recommended by Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana, Khurana’s answer appears to be: “I will watch myself, thank you very much.”
The drafting and implementation of the proposed sanctions that would blacklist members of these single-sex clubs — including students in sororities, fraternities, and final clubs — and, in turn, gut associational rights at the Ivy League school, has been a total mess.
You may remember the once-promising development that, on the eve of a faculty vote on a non-discrimination policy that would have undermined the sanctions and amidst widespread criticism that faculty had not been consulted in drafting the sanctions, Khurana announced plans to impanel a faculty committee that could “revise or replace” the sanctions policy.
Yet before this new committee was even formed, Khurana announced earlier this week that he would instead be accepting “nearly all” of the recommendations in a disappointing 46-page final report from the original implementation committee charged with designing the rollout for the new rules. (FIRE has tried to find out what is included in “nearly all.” No luck so far.)
At the time, we wondered where Khurana’s new faculty committee stood on this, characterizing its formation as potentially “a dishonest diversionary tactic” designed to kill the aforementioned motion.
It turns out we were insufficiently cynical.
In a move that beggars belief, Khurana has now appointed himself to lead the new faculty committee.
Yes, you read that correctly: Khurana will be leading the oversight committee to evaluate and alter a policy he himself proposed and initially accepted. (The sanctions were then further approved the same day by Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust — who, notably, is herself a graduate of the single-sex Bryn Mawr College.)
If you see a conflict of interest here, you are not alone. The level of shamelessness might almost be funny if the potential fallout from this policy was not so glaring, and so likely to have negative consequences for Harvard students.
At an institution that assures its community members freedom of association, adoption of this policy would render that promise meaningless.
And FIRE has little hope Khurana may be swayed or outvoted by the rest of the faculty committee: Of the 19 members of this new committee, only one was a signatory on the faculty motion opposing the sanctions.
Apparently anticipating legal problems, Harvard has appointed dedicated legal counsel to this committee.
This latest turn of events has only confirmed for us that Khurana and the Harvard administration are committed to acting unilaterally on this proposal and are prepared to undermine any possible oversight or check on their power.
It’s long past time for Harvard's Board of Overseers to step in and get a handle on what’s going on.
We likewise urge students and faculty at Harvard to make noise about this issue. Demand accountability of your administrators and refuse to let this sham of an oversight committee pass these illiberal sanctions quietly. Write President Faust and Dean Khurana and make your disagreement known. In the meantime, expect FIRE’s detailed analysis of the 46-page report in the near future.
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