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UPDATED: January 30, 2017 at 8:47 p.m.
Former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 has withdrawn a motion opposing the College’s penalties for members of single-gender social organizations after Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced last week that the sanctions could be “revised or replaced” by a faculty committee.
In a letter addressed to University President Drew G. Faust and Khurana, Lewis, a vocal opponent of the original policy, thanked Faust and Khurana for creating a faculty committee that will review the policy and submit recommendations for potentially revising it by the fall of 2017. In an interview last week, Khurana mentioned Lewis’s motion, filed last May, as a factor in his decision to open the sanctions to revision.
Despite voicing agreement with the spirit of the new committee, Lewis wrote that he would not rule out bringing the motion—which states that Harvard “shall not discriminate against students on the basis of organizations they join”—to the floor of the Faculty again.
“If the policy is reaffirmed without adequate revision, however, I expect that the motion, or one similar to it, will be reintroduced,” Lewis wrote.
In May, Khurana announced the historic policy that, starting with the Class of 2021, prohibits members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations from holding leadership positions in recognized student groups, becoming varsity captains, or receiving College endorsement for fellowships.
Lewis and 11 other professors crafted the motion opposing the sanctions shortly after Khurana’s announcement. In the fall, Lewis’s motion was at the at the center of controversy and debate among faculty members, some of whom charged that administrators did not properly consult professors when initially crafting the policy.
“But with the immediate threat of injury and trespass on faculty rights somewhat tempered, it would not be a good use of Faculty time to debate a matter which may become operationally moot,” Lewis wrote.
In an emailed statement, Khurana welcomed Lewis and other faculty members’ input, writing that “Harvard College is fortunate to have a community where faculty care so deeply about students and their well-being.”
“I believe we all want the same thing for our students—an equitable and inclusive institution,” he added. “While we sometimes differ in figuring out how best to achieve this result, I believe our differing perspectives create an opportunity for dialogue and finding common ground.”
According to motion signatory and classics professor Richard F. Thomas, Lewis had the final call on whether to withdraw the motion, though many signatories discussed its potential withdrawal.
In his letter, Lewis wrote that the faculty committee should specify “exactly what ‘problems’ need to be solved.” Critics of the new policy charged administrators with conflating concerns of gender equity, sexual assault, and social inclusivity in crafting the sanctions.
Despite the withdrawal, some signatories remain wary of administrator’s commitment to potential revision of the policy. Richard M. Losick, a biology professor who signed the motion, said that he was skeptical of Khurana’s announcement because the current policy will remain in effect while the committee reviews the sanctions.
Losick said he would have preferred the administration to scrap the policy altogether and then consult faculty.
“I found it disturbing that they haven’t really changed things,” he said. “ It’s as if they’re trying to paper it over and make it seem more legitimate without having a clean slate.”
Losick and Thomas both said that they would support Lewis in creating another motion if the committee did decided to not alter the sanctions. But Losick said that the committee would, at least, improve the problem of lack of faculty consultation.
“There is a more general widespread trend in which more and more authority is shifted from the faculty to administrators, and that’s very disappointing,” he said.
—Staff writer Derek G. Xiao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @derekgxiao.
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