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Shocking twist: Harvard club ban had only 7 votes from 27-member committee

In the Harvard social organization ban/blacklist saga, it is not an exaggeration to say that each development has been more outrageous than the last. The latest one comes from what former Harvard College Dean Harry R. Lewis described as “the blockbuster news story of the year by the [The Harvard] Crimson.”

On Friday, the Crimson reported that the surprising recommendation to ban all social organizations received only 7 votes from the 27-member Committee on the Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations, which had been empaneled to review implementation of last year’s plan to blacklist members of off-campus single-gender clubs. And according to the Crimson, despite other proposals garnering more support, the committee “never conducted another vote.”

This seems to directly contradict the committee’s 22-page report, which claimed that the recommendation it detailed had “strong majority support in the Committee” and that only a “small minority” disagreed with the recommendation to ban all social organizations.

Yet according to documentation reviewed by the Crimson and confirmed by two committee members, the recommendation that made its way into the report was not even the one that received the most votes.

Which recommendation did? The most popular option, which received 12 votes, “suggested Harvard form a new committee, composed of students and faculty, that would monitor Harvard’s final clubs and push them to become more inclusive over time.”

You read that right: The most popular option was to drop coercive tactics like punishments and blacklists altogether, and instead try to persuade students to decide independently.

It is extremely disheartening to see that this recommendation didn’t make a lick of difference in the end, failing to garner even a single mention in the final report.

To put the 7 votes in context:

  • The Committee on the Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations — which was created to oversee the implementation of the blacklist policy and which subsequently proposed this new recommendation — was hand-picked by policy architect Rakesh Khurana, dean of Harvard College, and included only one faculty member who publicly opposed the blacklist policy;
  • Each committee member could vote for “as many options as they wished” and had no incentive to withhold votes from options they agreed with;
  • In spite of that, barely one quarter of that committee voted for the policy that would eventually carry its imprimatur.

In other words, it looks a whole lot like Khurana stacked the deck in his favor, lost, and then proceeded undeterred, as though he had won.

If any information can square the documents in the hands of the Crimson and the report’s claim of “strong majority support,” Khurana and Harvard aren’t revealing it yet. Khurana and his committee co-chair, music professor Suzannah E. Clark, declined to comment to the Crimson.

FIRE is very grateful to the members of the committee who blew the whistle on this debacle. They have done a great service to their school by bringing a measure of sunlight into an inscrutable and unfair process. We sincerely hope that they do not face retaliation from the Harvard administration for doing so. As you might remember, Harvard doesn’t take kindly to leakers.

To the whistleblowers, if they’re reading this, we say this: If you find out Harvard administrators are reading your emails — something they’ve done before — please contact FIRE, certainly from a non-Harvard email address and preferably from off of its network.

While Harvard’s administration is doing its best impression of Kevin Bacon at the end of Animal House, it’s clear to any outside observer that Harvard has a serious problem on its hands. Dean Khurana and the Harvard administration seem to be free to act unilaterally and without any real accountability. Students and faculty are speaking out, to FIRE and to major media outlets, and organizing on campus to oppose this illiberal policy. Students and faculty: Please continue making your voices heard, so that hopefully Harvard’s overseeing body, the Harvard Corporation, or Harvard’s next president will put an end to this farce.

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