FIRE sends letter to Harvard University criticizing their new policy to punish students belonging to off-campus, single-sex organization

Perhaps you remember yesterday’s post in which I described and decried Harvard’s latest Authoritarian Leftist shenanigans. The University’s new policy, just set out by President Drew Faust (a woman, if you didn’t know), is that, to eliminate sexual harassment and assault, Harvard will start next year penalizing students who belong to same-sex groups like sororities, fraternities, and off-campus “final clubs.” None of these organizations are formally affiliated with Harvard.

The penalties assessed for belonging to such an organization include your not being allowed to assume leadership roles in Harvard-affiliated student organizations, and Harvard’s refusal to recommend you for prestigious fellowships like the Marshall and the Rhodes.

This is unconscionable, for it’s a violation of one’s freedom of association. Harvard has neither the brief nor the right to impede the educational progress of students who associate with the “wrong” groups in their free time.

As I expected, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has reported the story, and one of their directors has written a letter to President Faust and other administrators (you can find the full pdf of the letter here).  Two excerpts:

President Drew Gilpin Faust
Harvard University
Office of the President
Massachusetts Hall
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138


Sent via U.S. Mail and Electronic Mail (

. . . FIRE is gravely concerned by the threat to freedom of association presented by Harvard University’s recently-announced decision to bar members of unrecognized single-sex social organizations from holding leadership positions in recognized student organizations and on athletic teams. Under Harvard’s plan, members of such organizations will further be ineligible to receive Dean’s endorsement letters for postgraduate scholarships and fellowships, including the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships. This sweeping action significantly compromises the freedom of association of all Harvard students. We urge Harvard to reverse this illiberal and chilling new policy.

The policy affects the freedom of association rights of all Harvard student organizations, and by implication all Harvard students. By prohibiting members of disfavored groups from holding leadership positions in other student organizations, Harvard intrudes on its student organizations’ autonomy, removing their ability to elect and appoint leaders at their discretion and substituting its own judgment that certain students are categorically unfit to hold leadership positions. This result flatly contradicts the liberal values Harvard espouses.

. . . In purporting to act in the service of its liberal principles, Harvard has resorted to deeply illiberal measures. In the name of “achieving a campus where all members fully belong and thrive,” as you wrote in your letter to Dean Khurana, Harvard plans to single out students who maintain voluntary private associations of which the university disapproves, and then deny them benefits and opportunities based not on their individual actions or achievements, but on the presumption of guilt by association. We call on Harvard University to recognize these actions as incompatible with its mission and principles, reverse this illiberal and ill-considered policy, and ensure the protection of the freedom of association of its students. We request a response to this letter by May 26, 2016.

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I predict that, in the end, Harvard will rescind this silly policy. Not only is it probably illegal, and a violation of the student constitution of Harvard, but it will anger many alumni, including those who enjoyed their times in those clubs. As I said, I wouldn’t join any of them, but neither would I sanction a policy of Harvard that, however well motivated, would be ineffectual and penalize students in ways that are completely unfair.




  1. GBJames
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink


  2. Damien McLeod
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I certainly hope so.

  3. Filippo
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    ” . . . Harvard will start next year penalizing students who belong to same-sex groups . . . .”

    The Harvard Glee Club is an all-male, same-sex group.

    Therefore, I gather that next year members of the Glee Club will not be able to hold leadership positions in that group.

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


    • Heather Hastie
      Posted May 14, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Good one. 🙂

      And sports teams won’t be allowed captains.

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

    For those of you who don’t regularly look at the FIRE website (, I’d recommend that you do. Their news section provides an invaluable view into the current campus turmoil, among other things. They are particularly good on the pitfalls of the furor over sexual harassment on campus, and the efforts of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to turn college administrators and faculty into police. The Harvard action seems to be a reaction to OCR’s push for colleges to do something, anything, about sexual harassment, regardless of the law and the Constitution.

  5. Damien McLeod
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    “Harvard and MIT get “Muzzle Awards” for denying free speech”

    Comments are currently closed on the above post so I will comment here, I was born in Boston in 1945 and have lived there for short periods during my adulthood. I really enjoyed listening to WGBH-NPR while I was there and believe some really sensible and intelligent people work for WGBH. I further think the “Muzzle Award” project is great idea, and a “Muzzle Award” should be awarded to the entire “Repub-Reich-lican” Party. It would be a terrific addition to an already stellar program.

  6. Posted May 14, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Somehow this policy is even more insane when reading about it for a second time.

  7. jaxkayaker
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    “Harvard has neither the brief nor the right to impede the educational progress of students who associate with the “wrong” groups in their free time.”

    I think Harvard shouldn’t, it’s a bad idea on many levels, but they might have the right as a matter of law, as it’s a private institution.

    • Filippo
      Posted May 14, 2016 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      ” . . . Harvard shouldn’t, it’s a bad idea on many levels, but they might have the right as a matter of law, as it’s a private institution.”

      Ergo, would Harvard have the right to hold that the status of the Harvard Glee Club – an on-campus, university-sponsored and approved, same-sex organization, is fine and dandy, by virtue of Harvard being a private (corporate tyranny) institution?

      (As the captain of my U.S. Navy ship said to me: “It’s my bat, my ball, my ballpark – I win.”)

      In light of that, it’s no surprise that certain human primates of a certain mindset seek to privatize as much as possible.

      • Posted May 14, 2016 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

        This is a pickle. So students can be members of same-sex campus groups (Harvard Glee Club) but not the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus.


        Doesn’t smack of privilege and exclusivity at all, nope.

      • jaxkayaker
        Posted May 14, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        I didn’t say it made sense, or wasn’t hypocritical. I said it might not be a violation of the guarantee of freedom of association. As a private institution, Harvard might also have a guarantee of freedom of association.

        • Mark Sturtevant
          Posted May 14, 2016 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

          I get the point. It may be that as a private university Harvard might be able to intrude upon the activities of students in ways that a state-run university could not. I am not sure where such matters fall, legally. Upon re-reading the letter from FIRE, I note that they never really say that what Harvard is trying to do is illegal. They are really just saying it is ‘illiberal’, etc. So, hmmm.

  8. Draken
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    It can only be a matter of time before some Muslim organisation protests, too. Then the President would have to either make religious and feminist exemptions, or drop the plan, or draw the ire of the Regressive Left. Coming to think of it, no matter what she does, she will draw the latter’s ire, because It’s Never Enough.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted May 14, 2016 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      If a Muslim student organization and the Gay Mens’ Glee club join forces in a petition, wouldn’t that create a titanic explosion like the interaction between matter and antimatter?

      • Ken Phelps
        Posted May 14, 2016 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

        Or some FABULOUS burqas.

  9. keith cook + / -
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    From the hip, Augusta golf club was an all male (eh) member club.
    “The golf club has defended the membership policies, stressing that it is a private organization.[9]”
    That’s of interest in this case.

    …and this, not wholly on topic but emphasising changes had to be made,
    “there were no African-American members admitted until 1990,[5] as well as a former policy requiring all caddies to be black, which was omitted from the club’s bylaws in 1959.[6] The club began granting membership to women in August 2012. (wikipedia)

    So they needed a slap to get their act together and look at the timeline, prats!
    Reluctantly being dragged into the 21st century… so I get the gist of what the Harvard president was trying to do, if indeed this is what it IS all about.
    Freedom of association in private lives off campus, on campus is the loser here and they deserve the serve they have inflicted upon themselves.
    Approaching the whole issue with this draconian policy seems to me a very poorly thought out way of showing equality and that being inclusive between genders is a priority.
    I thought Harvard would have better brains than that, I was wrong, they made a meal of it.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted May 14, 2016 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

      As swallowers of ideology are wont to do. I see it as a form of compartmentalization akin to Francis Collins and religion.

  10. dd
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    Fellow readers…anyone have any information or thoughts how this Harvard edict would affect students who belong to religions that enforce strict male/female segregation, meaning things like separate entrances, areas of congregation, etc.

    • Posted May 16, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Taken at face value, a sex divided religious ceremony or congregation would not, because there would be both attending. But that raises an interesting question about what counts as an association. Could a student attend an Orthodox synagogue and yet not their Torah study group (for men only)? Is that the same organization or not? Does it matter if the group collects fees for (e.g.) study materials that are distinct from the synagogue’s own?

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