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Harvard professors sign, resubmit faculty motion against social club ban

Marcio Jose Bastos Silva/

Harvard professor Harry Lewis has filed a motion with the university’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences that could, if adopted, counteract the proposal to ban all social clubs on campus. Lewis posted the full motion, which is co-signed by 20 other Harvard faculty members, to his personal blog this morning and confirmed the development to FIRE:

Motion filed concerning club membership

Along with the co-signers listed below, I have submitted the following motion for the October 3 meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

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.

Explanatory note. This motion is intended to give students who join or form legal clubs or similar organizations the same protections that existing policies afford to all other students.  It also secures their right of free association.  If the policy is adopted, students could not, simply because of membership in a legal club, social or political organization, be sanctioned by the Administrative Board or by the Honor Council, or deprived of any academic or extracurricular opportunity or honor for which they would otherwise be eligible.

Boaz Barak

Shaye J. D. Cohen

Kathleen Coleman

Grzegorz Ekiert

James Engell

Benjamin M. Friedman

Daniel Gilbert

Barbara J. Grosz

David Haig

Harry Lewis

Richard Losick

Jason P. Mitchell

Michael Mitzenmacher

Eric M. Nelson

Steven Pinker

Hanspeter Pfister

Wilfried Schmid

Margo Seltzer

Richard Thomas

Helen Vendler

James Waldo

Posted by Harry Lewis at 10:55 AM

FIRE has criticized the proposal to ban social clubs since last May, when it was initially proposed as a ban on off-campus, single-gender clubs. We called it a “stunning attack on freedom of association,” reminiscent of a McCarthy-era blacklist, that presented myriad problems in its enforcement.

In the aftermath, the policy’s architect, Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana, appointed himself chair of a committee to “revise or replace” the policy. There were hopes that Harvard would, indeed, reconsider: Lewis withdrew a similar faculty motion in January in anticipation of the oversight committee’s report. But instead the committee unexpectedly doubled down last month, releasing a 22-page report concluding that the initial recommendations did not go far enough to foster inclusivity on campus and recommending that all unrecognized exclusive clubs, whether single-gender or not, should be phased out.

After the report’s release, renowned Harvard psychology professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Steven Pinker told FIRE: “This is a terrible recommendation, which is at odds with the ideals of a university.”

Pinker is a co-signatory on the new faculty motion.

Faculty have also expressed added concern that the university appeared poised to adopt the policy unilaterally, without a full faculty vote — raising new, troubling questions about the state of shared governance at the university.

Traditionally, Harvard faculty have voted to approve all changes to the student handbook. But a line in the latest committee report signals that might soon change. It reads:

“The President will make the final decision.”

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