Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., earlier this year. (Steven Senne/AP)

The day after an official from one of Harvard University’s “final clubs” — undergraduate social clubs known for their selectivity and secrecy — offered controversial comments about sexual assault, he apologized as the school met to mull the clubs’ future.

Charles M. Storey, Class of 1982 and a member of the famed Porcellian Club (which counted no less than President Theodore Roosevelt and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes among its members), was responding to the university’s apparent crackdown on all-male final clubs after a Harvard report last month linked them with “nonconsensual sexual contact,” and administrators implied they might have to go co-ed.

“Given our policies, we are mystified as to why the current administration feels that forcing our club to accept female members would reduce the incidence of sexual assault on campus,” Storey wrote in an email to the Harvard Crimson, which broke the story. “Forcing single gender organizations to accept members of the opposite sex could potentially increase, not decrease the potential for sexual misconduct.”

Storey’s comments, the most extensive from a Porcellian official in the club’s 225-year history, quickly became national news — and Storey was promptly pilloried for the observation that making the Porcellian accept women, as some other final clubs already have, would make sexual assaults more likely. After all, Storey reasoned, women can’t be sexually assaulted if they aren’t there. As one Twitter user commented: “Isn’t that like admitting they’re rapists?”

Storey, president of the Boston beer company Harpoon Brewery and the descendant of Harvard man and first NAACP president Moorfield Storey, offered a mea culpa on the Harpoon Brewery website.

“In a letter to the Harvard Crimson regarding private clubs of Harvard, I attempted to make a point regarding efforts to address sexual assault on campus,” he wrote in a statement titled “An Apology and Clarification.” “Unfortunately, I chose my words poorly and it came out all wrong. This failure has led to extreme and unfortunate misinterpretations, which were not my intentions at all. I take the issue of sexual assault extremely seriously, and I am truly sorry to those I have offended. I volunteer to serve as the graduate president of the Porcellian Club in my free time, in part as a way of giving back to the Club for the time I spent there as an undergraduate. My personal comments in no way reflect of the values and views of Harpoon Brewery.”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday night, the dean of Harvard College met with final clubs’ members in a nearly three-hour meeting that one member said was unproductive.

Richard Porteus, class of 1978 and graduate president of the Harvard’s exclusive Fly Club — which counted President Franklin D. Roosevelt among its members — was riled up enough about the meeting to pull off the road during a late-night commute from Cambridge to New Bedford, Mass., and discuss it with a reporter on the telephone.

“None of the conversation over eight months now really are directed at solving sexual assault,” Porteus told The Washington Post. “… And the consistent theme has not been that sexual assault is a problem as we all agree it is and want to solve it. The consistent theme is how do we transfer to gender neutrality on this campus.”

In an email ahead of the meeting obtained by The Post, Porteus had pointed questions for Harvard College dean Rakesh Khurana, who told the Harvard Crimson that “single gender social organizations at Harvard College remain at odds with the aspirations of the 21st century society to which the College hopes and expects our students will contribute.”

That sounded bad for final clubs. But Porteus wanted clarity. Among other queries, he asked: Would Khurana recommend undergraduates be banned from final clubs? That they be expelled for joining them?

“Conversation has centered on the university’s insistence that unrecognized single-gender social organizations, other than fraternities and sororities, must transition to co-ed membership or risk harm to future undergraduate members,” Porteus wrote. “When asked the nature of that harm, you have consistently responded that ‘nothing is off the table.’ As we approach the end of a full year of conversation focused on that one topic, no details have emerged. Therefore, the Fly Club board of directors, at the request of the full undergraduate and graduate membership, has instructed me to inquire of you this evening what, specifically, is ‘on that table.'”

After a 165-minute meeting with Khurana, Porteus didn’t have answers. The clubs, which were given an April 15 deadline to declare whether they would go co-ed, were told the school was contemplating penalizing students who joined single-sex organizations. Expulsion wasn’t on the table, but preventing students in the clubs from becoming captains of teams or holding elected office on campus was.

“The dean will develop policies that will discriminate against students that in their private life exercise their right of association,” Porteus said. “It would be possible for students who enroll in Harvard to join the Nazi party or the Ku Klux Klan, [but not] Harvard final clubs.”

Porteus thought this a “change from liberal education to illiberal education.”

“They have a plan that they are trying to coerce everyone to follow and it represents a major departure for the kind of institution that Harvard is,” he said. Dean Khurana did not immediately reply to a request for comment from The Post.

To some, final clubs may seem a remnant of the past. They have been called racist — the Porcellian, for example, admitted its first black member in 1983. They have also been called classist, anti-Semitic — and irrelevant.

“Harvard’s Final Clubs exist to provide secluded comfort for their selected few while the world passes by on the other side of the locked doors,” the Crimson wrote — in 1966. “‘It’s a step aside from the University,’ said Kinnaird Howland ’66-3, president of the Delphic Club. ‘When I finish my work it’s the place I can go to put my feet up.'”

But Porteus, who is working on establishing a charter school in New Bedford and studied English and American literature and language at Harvard, explained the appeal of the final club.

“Harvard is a super-competitive, high-pressure environment filled with very ambitious students,” he said. “In just about every organization, you’re part of a competition — on a sports team, as a writer at the Crimson … What makes the final club special is that these organizations are on average 75 students each, which falls smack dab in the range that anthropologists think is an ideal family band.”

Porteus said claims that the clubs weren’t diverse were “poorly researched nonsense,” and that their activities were “pretty innocent and boring.” He also said there is nothing wrong with men seeking the company of men.

“There is something deep-seated in the desire to understand your own gender,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you ignore or devalue any other gender, but you’re trying to figure out who you are.”

As the university moves to develop a plan to combat sexual assault by the fall, Porteus thought the final clubs part of “a huge question of whether Harvard is going to persist in behavioral design instead of liberal education.”

“Final clubs are so unique, and it’s easy to make fun of them without understanding what they are,” he said. “I’d like to move past that.”