Monday, November 7, 2016

Why History Matters

In a Crimson interview, Sanctions Could Be Subject to Change, Faust Says, President Faust starts out on a very promising note in discussing her policy about single-gender social organizations. “The way I talk about is I say, ‘here’s the problem, and now how do we figure out the solution.'" That is exactly right. It is what should  have happened but did not. Define the problem, and ask a group of faculty to come up with a solution, in consultation with students and administrative staff. It should have happened already. It still can happen. It should happen.

Unfortunately, the president gives no indication in the interview that she would rescind her single-gender student organization policy or suspend its implementation to give time a group to devise a better one. She seems, in fact, quite skeptical that this sort of thing is within faculty purview at all.
To Government professor Eric M. Nelson ’99—who expressed frustration that Faculty members were not consulted before the policy was rolled out—Faust responded that, to her understanding, the Faculty has not traditionally been involved in shaping undergraduate life and played little role in decisions like the derecognition of the final clubs in the 1980s and the randomization of House assignments in the late 1990s.


This is account of the history is wholly, utterly wrong. The faculty were directly involved in both decisions. In fact, the deans of that era would not have dared make such policy decisions without a thorough faculty vetting.

According to the Crimson of December 11, 1984, the severance of the final clubs from the College occurred at a meeting of the Committee on College Life, an ancestor of the Committee on Student Life. The CCL was a standing student-faculty committee formed pursuant to the Dowling legislation. As the Crimson reports,
the 12 member committee, consisting of five students and five faculty as well as [Dean of Students Archie C.] Epps and [Dean of Harvard College John] Fox, unanimously recommended that the College expedite the separation.
 As I recall, this separation was but the end of a long process of consultations with faculty and students that had begun in 1977 with the "non-merger merger" of Harvard and Radcliffe. There were many, many faculty consultations along the way. It was not a voting matter for the Faculty as a corporate body, but the Faculty, through its elected representatives, was involved in shaping the outcome. The final decision was an executive decision by the dean of the College -- but he was acting on the recommendation of the duly constituted student-faculty committee.

The Faculty was even more involved in the randomization decision. The decision to randomize the housing assignments was developed and recommended by the Committee on the Structure of Harvard College -- an ad hoc committee of very distinguished faculty that met in 1993 and 1994 and consulted widely with faculty, students, and administrators before issuing its report. A poor scan of the committee's report is posted here. In fact, the committee had a very broad mandate -- essentially to review the College and its structure. The committee itself identified self-segregation as a problem and proposed randomization as the solution, after considering a number of alternatives. The so-called Lewis-Maull Committee (Dean Nancy Maull co-chaired with me) included as members J. Woodland Hastings (Paul C. Mangelsdorf Professor of Natural Sciences, Master of North House); Akira Iriye (Charles Warren Professor of American History); David Pilbeam (Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences); Peter J. Gomes (Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Minister in the Memorial Church); Richard J. Herrnstein (Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology); Paul C. Martin (John Hasbrouck van Vleck Professor of Pure and Applied of Physics, Dean of the Division of Applied Sciences); Barbara Rosenkrantz (Professor of the History of Science, Emcrita); and Theda Skocpol (Professor of Sociology). Its recommendation to randomize the Houses went, with a lot of moral weight behind it, first to the Committee on House Life (later merged with the Committee on College Life to form the present Committee on Student Life), then to the Faculty Council; then to the full Faculty for discussion; before finally being implemented by Dean of the College Fred Jewett. (In an ironic twist, Dean Jewett actually did not implement the policy as it was recommended -- he failed to control for gender ratio in each House. That proved to be a disaster the very first year, and that control, which had been recommended in the College Structure report, was put in place for subsequent years.)

So twenty or thirty years ago, the Faculty was deeply involved in policy-making with respect to undergraduate life. Indeed the Faculty's interest in such matters is the reason why the Faculty annually votes the entire Handbook for Students, not just the academic rules.

The President is wrong to suggest that it is now incumbent on the faculty opposing the motion to devise alternatives in the next three weeks: 
In the interview Thursday, Faust said the next meeting in December would be an opportunity for concerned professors to propose alternatives to the controversial policy.
Alternatives should be devised cooperatively, by faculty, students, and the administration, by a well-informed, smaller group, in a thoughtful, collegial, deliberative process. The full faculty does not have the facts available to it and it has been given no background with which to debate the importance of restricting sororities, fraternities, and final clubs. The proposed policy was not developed in three weeks, nor was it thrashed out in a room with hundreds of people; no alternative proposal should be slapped together on that time scale in preparation for an unwieldy debate.

I wholly agree with the President's preference for shared governance. So let's again govern Harvard that way -- appoint and charge a group to come up with a proposal and then have it vetted through the properly constituted Faculty governance committees -- exactly as was done in 1984 and 1994, and exactly what was not done with the matter at hand.

 
  
 
 
 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

My remarks to the faculty in support of the nondiscrimination motion

Madam President: On behalf of several members of this body, I move that Harvard College shall not discriminate against students on the basis of organizations they join, nor political parties with which they affiliate, nor social, political or other affinity groups they join, as long as those organizations, parties, or groups have not been judged to be illegal.

This motion stands on its own as a statement of principle that we, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, have long honored in practice. As our posted argument notes, when this Faculty considered how to respond to the dilemma posed by ROTC’s discriminatory membership practices coupled with Harvard students’ desire to join as cadets, a faculty committee recommended that we cut off support to ROTC. But the same committee considered and explicitly rejected as “excessively paternalistic” the option of punishing students who chose to join MIT ROTC. The FAQ we distributed cites other historical precedents for the simple proposition that Harvard should not discriminate against members of this community on the basis of their private decisions about organizational memberships.

This motion is proposed in response to an unprecedented decision to limit opportunities for students who choose to join certain sororities, certain fraternities, and the so-called final clubs, female or male. (Not all clubs are affected by the policy, as I understand it. To fall beyond the reach of the policy it suffices to have a member of the other gender or a member from another college. So for example, it is fine under the policy to be a member of a sorority, even one that is exclusive on the basis of ethnicity as well as gender, as long as it includes MIT students as members.)

This is not the right place to discuss the nature and extent of the problems presented by single-gender organizations of Harvard students. I want to stress that the signatories to the motion are not defending any or all of these organizations. Nor are we denying the problems they create. Nor are we against change! About all that the twelve of us probably agree on is that Harvard should avoid making rules restricting students’ civil liberties—of speech, of religion, or of association. For example, the FAS would not sanction students for book purchases they might make at the Harvard Coop or the Harvard Book store, even if we feared that reading those books posed a grave moral hazard to the students or to the community. We would, I hope, not discriminate against students for adhering to a religion that gives women second-class status. In the same way, Harvard should honor students’ individual right to free association, and that is what our motion states.

It has been argued that the policy does not actually ban students from joining these organizations. Harvard is simply subjecting the offending students, goes the reasoning, to the loss of certain opportunities. But the College is creating a blacklist, an index of prohibited organizations, to use a canon law metaphor. Join one of the heretical clubs and you can remain a Harvard student, but there are certain blessings Harvard won’t bestow. Only the worthies, the students who have shown their fealty to Harvard by not joining the prohibited clubs, can be team captains or heads of student organizations, or get Harvard’s endorsement for a Rhodes Scholarship.

This automatic exclusion from an opportunity is really rather bizarre, if you think about what it would mean. For example, the College might interfere with the leadership elections of students in a political organization. An implementation committee is already hammering out the details of how this would all work, but the problem is not in the details—the problem was creating the blacklist in the first place.

I have heard it argued that reforming the all-male final clubs is so important that it justifies this infringement of civil liberties. These clubs aren’t truly private organizations, goes the argument, because they consist solely of Harvard students. And nobody needs them anyway. So given the importance of the objective, it is OK for Harvard to impose its standards on the private choices of students.

We have heard this line of argument before, twice in the past few years, when Harvard has infringed personal liberties of members of this community in service of goals it considered more important. This was the defense when Harvard read faculty email without notifying them, in search of the source of a leak to the Crimson. This was also the defense when Harvard photographed students in the classroom without informing them, because the data would be important to educational research. In each case, the argument went, the infringement was minor, no one suffered any harm, and the goal was important. Both times, Harvard eventually stepped back from this line of defense. Now once again, Harvard is showing an ethical blind spot in arguing that its high-minded ends justify means that would not be tolerated in civil society.

This policy is disappointing both for the dangerous precedent it sets, and for the irregular way it was enacted, by administrative fiat after the last faculty meeting of the year this past spring. Others who will speak after me plan to address these matters, but I must note here that a memo distributed for this meeting mischaracterizes our concerns and incorrectly implies that they have been addressed. We were given no opportunity to review that memo, and it misstates our views. We did not think that the scope of the policy needed to be made clearer. Our concern is that having enacted a college policy of this importance without consulting this body or its elected representatives, the dean and the president would at a later date be empowered to enact other policies, about this matter or others that properly lie within the jurisdiction of this body.

For my own part, my most serious objection to this policy is neither precedent nor process. My deepest concern is educational. The policy teaches our students, who watch everything we do, bad lessons. It is illiberal—it teaches students that it is OK to sacrifice basic individual freedoms in pursuit of large but only vaguely related social goals.

Our sights should be set higher. Part of our commitment to diversity is our institutional confidence that students may think differently than we do, and may make private choices of which we disapprove. By all means, if we conclude that students should not visit or join these organizations, let’s tell them they shouldn’t go, and why. Let’s tell them loudly and clearly and persistently. If students behave badly, anywhere, then by all means let us hold them accountable for their actions. And of course, we should continue to adhere to this Faculty’s standards of inclusivity for official Harvard student organizations—the standards we vote every year.

But our long history should have taught us some humility about our capacity to make the best private choices for our students. Let us teach and model our values as best we can. But to make rules for students about their private lives is to admit our own failure to persuade them, through evidence and reason, to live up to our ideals. Or perhaps we just haven’t tried hard enough. I don’t recall freshman advisors or directors of undergraduate studies ever being told that we should warn undergraduates away from sororities. My advisees tell me that they don’t remember the dangers of the final clubs even being mentioned in Freshman orientation.


For all these reasons we move to bar discrimination on the basis of organizational memberships. As several members of this Faculty have expressed to me their fear of being seen voting their conscience in favor of a motion to which the President and the deans are opposed, I respectfully request that the vote at our December meeting be done by paper ballot. Thank you.