Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana spoke out against certain social group members’ recent efforts to combat Harvard’s controversial sanctions in an interview April 27.
Asked whether he is concerned by the movement to oppose the penalties, Khurana said he thinks “people should respect a private institution’s ability to organize itself around its mission.”
“At Harvard, we have a very specific mission of educating citizens and citizen leaders for our diverse and interconnected society,” Khurana said. “We do not believe that it is effective to basically institutionalize segregation.”
“Separate is not equal,” he added.
Harvard announced penalties on members of unrecognized single-gender social groups in May 2016, sparking roughly two years of administrative, campus, and national debate over the policy’s validity. The College’s sanctions—which took effect with the Class of 2021—bar members of unrecognized single-gender social groups from holding student group leadership positions, varsity athletic team captaincies, and from receiving College endorsement for prestigious fellowships.
Across the past few months, graduate and undergraduate members of single-gender social groups have mobilized to lobby members of Congress in favor of the PROSPER Act. The act, a piece of legislation meant as an update to the Higher Education Act, contains a provision that could force the University to choose between its sanctions and millions of dollars in research funding.
Though the PROSPER Act in its current form likely does not affect Harvard, some social group affiliates hope to change the wording of an amendment to the act to render the legislation applicable to Harvard. The Cambridge Coalition—a group of Greek organizations and final clubs including the Porcellian Club—has retained the D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter to coordinate this lobbying effort on the Hill.
Khurana said in the interview he believes “deference should be given to educators” in being able to pursue their universities’ core missions. He also noted students, when choosing which school to attend, have the ability to examine that school’s policies before matriculating.
“There are many excellent colleges and universities in this country, and for students who may want to join different types of organizations with different philosophies, there’s a wonderful set of institutions,” he said.
Harvard administrators are aware of threat the PROSPER Act amendment may pose to the sanctions. University President Drew G. Faust recently penned a letter to Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican and proponent of the amendment, laying out her concerns with the legislation.
"I worry that the language included in the PROSPER Act represents an effort by Congress to regulate student life and the shape and character of private institutions in a way that threatens to undermine that diversity of choice and experience," Faust wrote in the letter.
Khurana said he has not been in communication with the members of final clubs who are lobbying around the PROSPER Act.
“I’m not in communication or regular communication, but I welcome any type of dialogue,” Khurana said.
Khurana said he and other College staff, however, have met with leaders of national sororities “at the request of the students” in the sororities.
When asked what he believes to be the driving force behind some social group affiliates’ decision to lobby against the sanctions, Khurana said he did not wish to comment.
“I would never try to question anybody’s motivations,” he said.
—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.
—Staff writer Michael E. Xie can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelEXie1.
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