Harvard to punish students belonging to single-sex non-Harvard organizations

My Ph.D. alma mater is misbehaving badly these days. Under president Drew Faust, Harvard is starting to turn into an Authoritarian Leftist university. I won’t recount all the ways they’re caving in to student “demands,” but the initiative I’ll describe today, which I learned about from The Washington Post, came solely from the University administration.

According to the Post‘s op-ed, “Harvard’s clueless illiberalism“, the whole issue derived from Harvard’s desire to deal with the problem of sexual harassment and assault, which of course is a good thing to do. But the way they addressed the issue is, in this case, wrong-headed, ham-handed, and probably in violation of the College’s own statues.

President Faust asked Dean Rakesh Khurana to study “single-sex” groups like fraternities and sororities to see if they were contributing to the problem. (Harvard has numerous unofficial single-sex groups, including “final clubs”; you can see a list here, which encompasses both male and female groups.)

Fraternities, of course, are said to be the locus of a lot of sexual malfeasance, though in some cases, like the confected University of Virginia rape incident, reports have been false.  But insofar as fraternities do promote sexual harassment or assault (largely through dispensing enormous quantities of alcohol), they should be reproved and reformed. And if they have a formal affiliation with a university, they can be put on notice or even expelled.

But Harvard’s sororities and fraternities are independent, with no official affiliation with Harvard. They’re just places to live, hang out and party, and they are, as usual, limited to either men or women.

Nevertheless, President Faust considered this a problem that Harvard had to address. Here are excerpts from her statement, which implies that it’s really the fraternities and not sororities that are the problem:

. . . we have rededicated ourselves to achieving a campus where all members fully belong and thrive. For us to make progress on this shared endeavor, we must address deeply rooted gender attitudes, and the related issues of sexual misconduct, points underscored by the work of the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Assault.

. . . Although the fraternities, sororities, and final clubs are not formally recognized by the College, they play an unmistakable and growing role in student life, in many cases enacting forms of privilege and exclusion at odds with our deepest values.

. . . [Single-sex groups] encourage a form of self-segregation that undermines the promise offered by Harvard’s diverse student body. And they do not serve our students well when they step outside our gates into a society where gender-based discrimination is understood as unwise, unenlightened, and untenable.

It’s funny to hear Harvard talking about “privilege” and “exclusion” as being at odds with their deepest values. Harvard thrives on privilege and exclusion, and promotes it in many ways. And, of course, these passages refer largely to fraternities, for “gender-based discrimination” must surely mean discrimination against women.

So Harvard had to do something, but, to maintain gender parity, whatever it did it had to be done to men and women equally. You can’t single out fraternities and not sororities.

In fact, Harvard had no brief to punish members of any of these groups, as they’re not affiliated with Harvard at all! Harvard can certainly criticize them, but they have no authority to penalize them.

But Harvard did anyway. Beginning with the class of 2017, any Harvard student found belonging to a gender-exclusive group will experience these sanctions (taken from the Post article):

  • Those students won’t be able to hold any leadership position in Harvard’s undergraduate organizations, including sports teams. That means that if you belong to an off-campus fraternity, you can’t be captain of the all-male football team. Or if you belong to a sorority, you can’t be president of the women’s crew team. Ironic, isn’t it?
  • Those students will not be able to apply for prestigious fellowships, like the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, that require endorsements from Harvard. Harvard will not support the students by sending the required university recommendation and endorsement.

This is ludicrous. While I’ve never belonged to a single-sex organization (I didn’t try to join a fraternity at William and Mary), they exist, and a student has the right to join one without University action if the group is not part of Harvard. To formally penalize students by withholding leadership positions and those crucial letters of support is a reprehensible and unconscionable act, although one driven by good motives.

Naturally, the students protested. And, as the Christian Science Monitor reports, some of the women are protesting because they want all-women’s groups to help them escape from a male-dominated society as well as to serve as “safe spaces”:

But opponents disagree that the unrecognized final clubs, fraternities, and sororities have an undesirable affect on student life. The #HearHerHarvard movement specifically argues that female-only final clubs and sororities now offer women an important safe place on campus to come together.

“My first semester at Harvard, I lost my voice and sense of self at such a competitive school,” Class of 2016 member Whitney Anderson said at the protest, as reported by The Washington Post. “Joining a women’s organization helped me find my place at Harvard. I finally had a home at school.”

Thus we have even more irony: that one form of Authoritarian Leftism, the attempt to punish students for their non-Harvard activities, is now conflicting with another form: the desire for “safe spaces” free from undesired speech. As the Post also notes, the University’s action is in conflict with Harvard’s Undergraduate Council, which opposes “restriction of any one’s freedom of public speech, assembly, expression, or association.”

It’s unbelievable that Harvard would try to sanction students, and hurt their educational experience, by monitoring their associations with off-campus groups.  My own alma mater is becoming just another Authoritarian Leftist school like Oberlin. President Faust really should rethink her decision.


The president’s email address is president@harvard.edu, and I’ve written her (a copy of my email is in the comments). If you’re a graduate, your letter will be especially effective, as graduates often donate, and Dosh Trumps All.



  1. Scott Draper
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Seems like this wouldn’t go over well with alumni, who may have more cherished memories of brotherhood and sisterhood than they have of the impersonal University itself.

    (Personally, I think it would be a good think if fraternities and sororities disappeared….most people seem to go to college with the expectation of four years of summer camp, rather than getting an education.)

  2. GBJames
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:12 am | Permalink


    (I had to look up what a “final club” is.)

    • Posted May 13, 2016 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      Me too. No clue!

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted May 13, 2016 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        I’ve never heard of one either, but I’ve made a guess because I can’t be bothered looking it up. I suspect I’ll find out via a comment at some point whether I got it right.

  3. Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Hah, Michael Eisen had this tweet about this a few days ago:

  4. darrelle
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    It wouldn’t bother me at all if fraternities and sororities disappeared. I can’t really think of any relevant positives about them that can’t be enjoyed without them but I can think of lots of negatives.

    But that is sort of beside the point here. I agree that the Harvard administration is way out of line on this. Not only is it bad form on their part, it’s also just plain stupid.

  5. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    First they came for Larry Summers…

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 13, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      … but not quickly enough.

      • Mary
        Posted May 13, 2016 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

        that’s just damn funny!

      • Diane G.
        Posted May 14, 2016 at 1:43 am | Permalink

        What Mary said. LOL!

  6. Kevin
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Fraternities and sororities are like churches. Just let them be. Their days are numbered as they slowly implode into “what’s the point”.

  7. Randy Schenck
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Don’t really see how this has any impact on true sexual harassment? Assault is another issue as is rape but again, not sure of the connection. Maybe they have watched Animal House too often. Seems the football team would be as much a concern since that is all male and full of all that testosterone and actually part of the University. Oh right…there is money in that activity.

    • Scott Draper
      Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Does the football team actually have rules that forbid women?

      • Posted May 13, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

        But it is an official university club / organization, so that’s OK, the way I read things.

    • Filippo
      Posted May 13, 2016 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      In addition to football, I am interested in the glee club situation (having my own public university “Bright College Years” enjoyable memories). I gather that the Harvard Glee Club remains all male. The below link addresses the Harvard-Yale rivalry not only on the gridiron but also on the concert stage, the events of that particular evening bordering on the farcical and absurd.


      I can’t document it at the moment, but some years ago I read that, once women were admitted to Yale in 1969, Yale decided to allow women in the glee club so as to not have to deal with possible Title IX repercussions which might otherwise obtain.

      I gather that quite a bit of cache or panache or prestige has been and is attached to being a member of the Yale Glee Club. Should it be no less so in the HAR-VARD Glee Club, to the point that women similarly would want to join this UNIVERSITY-SPONSORED group, and in the name of inclusion and diversity to boot, eh?

  8. gary
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    The fraternities are not part of Harvard, so I consider the members adults not students. Harvard is encroaching on their right of free association.

    • Posted May 13, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      If they don’t want a student they should not have accepted them or they should expel them but this is just petty tyranny trying to thought police.

  9. Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Regarding the general charge of “Authoritarian leftism”, I imagine that the accusation is generated by (a) reactionary conservative mythmaking & (b) diminishing white male privilege.

    • Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Yes, I’m certainly a reactionary conservative incensed by my diminishing privilege. You should know that many Leftists decry authoritarian Leftism. Read Nick Cohen to educate yourself. And a lot of women readers on this site do too.

      • Scott Draper
        Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:49 am | Permalink

        The sad thing is that you can’t criticize the left without being accused of being a conservative, and you can’t criticize the right without being accused of being a liberal.

        People don’t seem aware that one can have a more eclectic set of views.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted May 13, 2016 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

        Just a wee note to provide an example for Jerry’s claim about women commenters on WEIT: among other things I’m a liberal, feminist, New Atheist who is frequently appalled by the authoritarian left.

        • Diane G.
          Posted May 14, 2016 at 1:47 am | Permalink

          Same here.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      It’s a lazy and intellectually dishonest trick: find opinion you don’t like; frame the opinion-holder as The Enemy. Job done, no need to engage with any of the actual points raised by the opinion.

      It would be far more useful to point out where you think the counter-argument has gone wrong; or why the new Harvard policy can be regarded as beyond reproach.

      • Posted May 13, 2016 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

        “It’s a lazy and intellectually dishonest trick: find opinion you don’t like; frame the opinion-holder as The Enemy. Job done, no need to engage with any of the actual points raised by the opinion.”

        Worth repeating (sub)

    • darrelle
      Posted May 13, 2016 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      If you were to learn that the proprietor and regulars at this site are weighted rather heavily to the left would that motivate you to seek and question about the OPs position rather than assume and respond with mistargeted accusations?

    • Posted May 13, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Would you applaud Harvard if they where refusing leadership roles and withholding letters of recommendation for students that got together and say talked about worker solidarity (sorry forgot your kind of Left no longer cares about workers as a class) or anti war meetings or pick any other political view point?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 13, 2016 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, Our Host is just a resentment or two away from showing face at a Trump rally. Obvs.


    • Posted May 13, 2016 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Translation: The Left may not be criticized.

      Ummm, no.

      Typically, Harvard students are adults. And to punish them materially for whom the associate with, not connected with the University, is just ludicrous. As long as they aren’t breaking any laws, it’s their own business.

      You can’t make everyone agree with you (so much for “diversity”).

  10. dunnfjfrancis
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:45 am | Permalink


  11. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I don’t see how this can fly. Agreed the fraternities can be a source problems, but this is a blanket punishment and presumption of guilt by association.
    Plenty of wealthy alumni who donate big $$$ to Harvard will not be happy to learn that their kids in Harvard are being impacted. One powerful area of push-back will come from them, I bet.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted May 13, 2016 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t your Constitution have something about freedom of association or similar?

      And I suspect it would help lessen the abuse of women more if they got rid of the football team than decried sorority membership.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted May 13, 2016 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        A quick check confirms the freedom of association (and disassociation). This right is seen in all democratic legal systems, according to Wikipedia. That site specifically mentions that it applies to fraternities, so… interesting.
        I also agree with your view on ‘Sports Ball’ here. It is insane on multiple levels.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted May 13, 2016 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

          Cheers Mark – thanks for making up for my laziness. But it is Saturday morning here and I have shopping and laundry to do! 🙂

          • Oleaginous Outrager
            Posted May 15, 2016 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

            College athletics are indeed a disgrace, but administrators have a dollar addiction that makes a tweaker’s obsessions seem reasonable.

  12. Mark Reaume
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    I imagine that the Authoritarian Left’s new Islamic allies would not like this rule either.

    Strange bedfellows.

  13. Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    I’ve written this email to Faust (address at the bottom of the post):

    Dear President Faust,

    I read with dismay your letter about Harvard students being sanctioned for belonging to single-sex clubs outside the University. This seems to me to be a serious misstep on Harvard’s part: a violation of the right of free association. While I applaud Harvard’s desire to address the problem of sexual harassment and assault, this initiative accomplishes nothing, and makes Harvard look really bad.

    And seriously, how can your University penalize students for what they do that is unconnected with Harvard? Do you seriously think these actions will have ANY impact on sexual harassment and assault? How would that work? I guess you intend to disband those organizations by penalizing students who belong to them.

    It is not Harvard’s business to monitor who their students associate with in their free time. If the single-sex groups were affiliated with the University, then yes, you could take some action. But this latest set of sanctions smacks of Big Brotherism.

    I am ashamed of my alma mater and have written a post on my website about this affair:


    Jerry Coyne
    Ph.D, Biology, 1978

    • Posted May 13, 2016 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      Right on! 🙂

    • Kun Lin
      Posted May 13, 2016 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      The second paragraph cracks me up, that was a huge escalation from the rather reverent first paragraph.

  14. DrBrydon
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    I can’t imagine how Harvard can think that it has any right to try and regulate students’ private activities, or that it should want to. Here come the lawsuits….

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 14, 2016 at 1:56 am | Permalink

      Yes, lawsuits were the first thing that occurred to me! How can the University refuse to support applications for “prestigious fellowships” on such a ridiculous stance?

      (I guess plain old, run-of-the-mill fellowships get a pass.)

      • Filippo
        Posted May 14, 2016 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        I gather that President Faust’s group memberships are subject to scrutiny.

        • Diane G.
          Posted May 14, 2016 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

          Maybe they’ll stop accepting former Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

  15. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    What I don’t understand is where this concept of Fraternities or Sororities came from? It seems entirely bizarre from this side of the pond.
    The sports things – ach, so what – everyone and every sport co-ed in all facilities and events. Job solved. It’s only sport and won’t make any important difference.

    • chris moffatt
      Posted May 13, 2016 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      seems like other american organisations they have been spreading around the planet. I read the other day of one highly notorious fraternity (DKE IIRC) that has a branch at Edinburgh Uni. There are some at canadian unis too – shock horror! and in the Phillippines and France. And yes it is entirely bizarre.
      However I thought we had settled this freedom of (dis)association thing back in the old Goldwater days. Private organisations may legally choose who may or may not become a member. public organisations may not.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted May 13, 2016 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      We’ve never had them in NZ either. My university provided on-campus accommodation to first years, but although different floors or wings (depending on the building) were always designated either male or female, only one building was, and that was reserved for very religious Christian girls who specifically asked to be housed there. The boys were more interested in that building than any other, I suspect because they weren’t allowed anywhere near it. The lure of the forbidden and all that. For the rest of us, most of the male/female interaction wasn’t sexual encounters.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted May 14, 2016 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

        My uni re-arranged accommodation when I got there so that all first years from outside the city were offered a room in halls, and the remaining rooms were allocated on a points-based needs basis (so many points for being a wheelchair user, crutch user, blind … various other health issues, mental issues … then international students ($$$), then non-first years). The rest of us simply had no option but to go out to the real world and learn to look after ourselves.
        If there was space, people approaching finals got some preference for available rooms.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted May 14, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

          I suppose if they didn’t have enough accommodation, they had to have some criteria. I remember a PhD student moving into our building towards the end of the year into a room previously vacated by someone who dropped out, so I suppose we had criteria too.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted May 14, 2016 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

            At that time there were around 2000 halls places for a studennt body od about 6000 (undergraduates and post graduates. The student body count has since gone up to 12-15000 (I don’t keep track) and the halls task has been out-sourced to profit-making commercial organisations.

  16. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Only just noticed the President’s name. Surely he can come up with a pact to solve this problem of his own making?

    • GBJames
      Posted May 13, 2016 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      (Psst… Drew Faust is a woman.)

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted May 13, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        Show the birf certifikat!!1!1!! Or no entrée to the Women’s for Goethe’s Doktor Faust.

    • steve
      Posted May 14, 2016 at 5:09 am | Permalink

      I get what you did there. Very devilish of you.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted May 14, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink


  17. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I’ve got no love lost for frat boys (or for sororities, for that matter), but Harvard is out-of-bounds here.

    If Harvard really wants to do something to put the kibosh on “privilege and exclusion,” it should shitcan legacy admissions for the kids of big-donor alumni.

    Of course, aspirational goals are one thing; jeopardizing the Endowment’s bottom-line is another.

  18. Posted May 13, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    So, a Harvard student can’t join, say, the Boston Gay Men’s Social Club? (or whatever)

    • Posted May 13, 2016 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, good point. And I forgot there are men’s and women’s choruses in Boston.

      • AdamK
        Posted May 13, 2016 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        I think choruses are usually segregated by vocal range, and only referred to by sex as a matter of convenience, since sex and vocal range are correlated. I’ve seen a “Gay Men’s” chorus with a smattering of female tenors.

        • AdamK
          Posted May 13, 2016 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

          Or maybe transgendered tenors?

        • Posted May 13, 2016 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

          Um, choirs?

          The Gay Men’s choruses I know of are all affect groups. A bunch of gay guys that like to sing (together). And hurray for them! 🙂

      • Taz
        Posted May 13, 2016 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

        I wonder if any Harvard students are members of “Daughters of the American Revolution”.

  19. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    One side of me wants to say “Where is Dinesh D’Souza now that we need him?” and the other half says “In a halfway house sentenced for illegal campaign donations”.

    Has FIRE gotten into this??

  20. JohnnieCanuck
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    I concur with the “wrong-headed, [and] ham-handed” part, but the visuals for “probably in violation of the College’s own statues” is quite distracting. There are undoubtedly many statues on the campus and students have likely adorned or posed with them in rude ways, but how does a College violate a statue? It would seem there could be no possibility of their having given consent.

    /humorous typo.

  21. cherrybombsim
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    “in many cases enacting forms of privilege and exclusion at odds with our deepest values.”

    This one has to win some sort of award for Total Lack of Self-Awareness.

  22. Merilee
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 8:26 pm | Permalink


  23. Diane G.
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 2:10 am | Permalink

    Et tu, Harvard?

    (Whoops. Please forgive cultural appropriation of Roman language and English literature.)

    I might email President Faust if I can ever come up with a different opening line than “what the holy fuck were you thinking?”

    • Filippo
      Posted May 14, 2016 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      I wonder if Lawrence Summers is sitting somewhere, smirking.

      • Diane G.
        Posted May 14, 2016 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

        Oh, cripes, I’ll bet he is. And the worst part is, he’d be totally justified to do so.

%d bloggers like this: