Harvard proposes banning student membership in disfavored off-campus groups

by Greg Mayer

Harvard Magazine reports that a university committee has proposed that, starting with next year’s class, Harvard students be banned from joining certain off-campus groups. The policy recommended by the committee states (full report here):

Harvard students may neither join nor participate in final clubs, fraternities or sororities, or other similar private, exclusionary social organizations that are exclusively or predominantly made up of Harvard students, whether they have any local or national affiliation, during their time in the College. The College will take disciplinary action against students who are found to be participating in such organizations. Violations will be adjudicated by the Administrative Board.

The intent of the policy is to eliminate membership by Harvard students in single-sex and other clubs disapproved by Harvard administrators. Jerry commented here (1, 2, 3) at WEIT on an earlier Harvard policy, enacted last year, that banned members of such social organizations from student leadership positions and from getting Harvard’s support for post-graduate fellowships. Here’s part of what Jerry wrote at the time:

This [the earlier sanctions policy] 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.

Jerry also noted the irony of Harvard railing against “privilege” and “exclusion”: “Harvard thrives on privilege and exclusion,” he wrote.

The new proposal goes considerably further than the current policy, banning (rather than merely punishing) membership. It also extends to groups not previously thought to be problematic, including the Hasty Pudding Club (which is coed). The report notes that an unspecified minority of the committee opposed its recommendations, and one member of this minority, professor and evolutionary biologist David Haig, wrote a dissent appended to the report. He criticized the report’s recommendation for being a poor balance between students’ rights and the need to be non-discriminatory:

The report proposes an escalation of the conflict between unrecognized social organizations and Harvard College. Rather than certain benefits being withheld, the recommendation is that membership in these organizations be considered incompatible with being a Harvard undergraduate. Moreover, the scope of the policy has been expanded to include groups that admit both men and women but are considered socially exclusionary.

The sanctions policies have involved a conflict between competing goods: on the one hand, respect for student autonomy and freedom of association; on the other hand, non-discrimination and inclusivity. The report strongly favors the latter over the former goods. I continue to favor a balance more on the side of student autonomy because I am unconvinced that the policy, when implemented, will solve the latter problems.

He also noted that the report took a rather selective view of student input on the issue of outside club membership:

There is a disconnect between these numbers on student opinion [60 % of students opposed the sanctions in a 2017 student referendum that had an over 40% participation rate by the students] and the general tone of this committee’s report which emphasizes deep unhappiness among students with the social environment created by the clubs  … The various committees on USGSO policy, including this one, have never sought quantitative unbiased data on student opinions but have relied on selected comments of students opposed to the clubs. … There is no doubt that some students, faculty, and deans find the clubs deeply offensive but well-informed social policy requires knowledge of the full-range of student opinions. Harvard College can do better in reasoning with data.

Last year, when the earlier sanctions policy was announced, both Jerry and I wrote to Drew Faust, the President of Harvard, to protest. Here’s what I wrote to her (June 4, 2016):

Dear President Faust–

I was appalled to learn that the University intends to monitor students’ participation in non-Harvard affiliated organizations, and to penalize those students who associate with groups that Harvard disapproves. This is a frankly shocking development. That you could even contemplate such illiberal, authoritarian, and coercive measures confounds me. The objections to the policy are several:

It is a gross abrogation of students’ freedom of association.

It proposes guilt by association. Most sexual assaults occur in the houses– are we to judge all students who live on campus guilty, and penalize them?

It forces Harvard to make what seem to be arbitrary, or perhaps even unprincipled, distinctions. Why are some single-sex organizations exempted, while others are subject to sanctions? Many religions enforce sex segregation to a greater or lesser degree– are these also candidates for disapproval?

It forces Harvard to become the arbiter of a potentially unlimited number of organizations’ worthiness. Although this round of sanctions is designed to address the very worthy goal of eliminating sexual assault, what next goal will require Harvard to further scrutinize the associations of its students to insure conformity?

It will require an Orwellian scheme of surveillance, because the organizations penalized are private, off campus groups, whose membership is not public knowledge.

The way to promote Harvard’s ideals of equality, opportunity, non-violence, and civility is by exemplifying these values in its campus life, University policies, and pedagogy, not by instituting illiberal policies that would require monitoring of unprecedented scope. I urge you to reconsider your decisions with regard to these matters.

Jerry got a pro-forma email response to his note, but I actually got a phone call from Rakesh Khurana, Dean of Harvard College (who had initiated the earlier sanctions policy, and chaired the committee now proposing a ban), to discuss my concerns. We had a civil and respectful conversation, but neither of us succeeded in convincing the other. I still stand by what I wrote last year. If anything, the new proposal expands, just as I feared, the scope of what Harvard might choose to sanction. To enforce the policy, the committee even considered requiring a sort of ‘loyalty oath’ affirmation (“Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Hasty Pudding Club?”), similar to what some other colleges have instituted, but decided not to recommend one, though adding, ominously, “at present”.

The policy is in the lap of Harvard’s president, Drew Faust. The reporter for Harvard Magazine seemed taken aback by this, having expected formal faculty participation:

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the report is that it seems to make clear that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences [the dean of FAS appointed the committee] will not be given an opportunity to vote on any of the committee’s recommendations. Instead, the report invites faculty feedback through a website, email, or during “open faculty discussions” that will take place at the beginning of the academic year. Such feedback, the report says, “will be taken into account” when the recommendation is presented in the fall to President Faust, who “will make the final decision.”

Based on a quick perusal of the comments section at Harvard Magazine, the proposal, is a taking quite a shellacking, with a number of commenters noting that President Faust belongs to and/or supports a number of all-female organizations and institutions. However, commenters at Harvard Magazine will probably be dismissed as ‘cranky alumni’.


JAC: I’ve added one comment about Faust’s membership in a women-only organization (the graduate school does admit men):


  1. BJ
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    There are two amusing (or should I say frightening) things about this. First, this started at Harvard a couple of years ago, with the thought being that they would ban only clubs that were exclusively male (because those are the oppressive/marginalizing ones), while continuing to allow all-female clubs. This created an uproar, so they then decided they better ban all single-sex clubs.

    Second, providing such control over how students freely assemble outside of school could allow future restrictions like punishment for belonging to certain ideological clubs (are you part of a Republican club? You’re expelled). How far can this be allowed to go before it must be stopped?

  2. Posted July 14, 2017 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    From the report;

    “However, even if all of these organizations adopted gender-neutral membership in a timely fashion, there would remain a myriad of practices of these organizations that go against the educational mission and principles espoused by Harvard University. The appeal to “non-discrimination” is likely to remain inadequate to address the complexities of the socially distorting and pernicious effects of the clubs that exclude while also dominating the social scene at Harvard.”

    Wow. They are reserving the right to shut down anyone they deem unfit for….reasons.

    There seems to be no bottom.

  3. Posted July 14, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    A question for Harvard alumni….what, exactly, are “final clubs”? They refer to them throughout the report but I didn’t get a clear idea of what they actually are. These “final clubs” seem to be their chief (but by no means only) targets.

  4. Zach
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Are these Harvard administrators trying to get their school sued?

  5. Adam M.
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Actually, Harvard only bans female-only groups on paper. They have a stated policy of not enforcing the rules against female-only groups. See e.g. http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2017/3/29/female-groups-preserve-gender-focus/

    • Posted July 14, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      The proposed new policy would, apparently, rescind the forbearance of female-only groups, as the list of proscribed groups includes female-only and formerly female-only groups, including the Sab Club, which has become coed.


    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 14, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      “Suffer not a woman a distaff organization to join.”

  6. DrBrydon
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    As invariably happens with policies like this that seek to target certain groups while appearing to be universal, there is no way this could be applied equitably. This started out (like Trump’s Muslim ban) as a clearly targeted initiative against single-sex clubs, and what has resulted cannot be separated from that. It is now about “exclusionary social organizations,” but would it really be used to discipline a private organization made up predominantly of Harvard students who are Native Americans? No. The enforcement would be entirely subjective.

    That business about a loyalty oath, though! How can they not see that this would be just like a Red hunt? These people have learned the wrong lessons from History.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted July 14, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      “How can they not see …”

      Because they’re used to getting participation trophies when they fail.

  7. Raymond Little
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Doesn’t Harvard have any lawyers around. Surely this would never stand a court challenge?

  8. Posted July 14, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    So what about the men’s swim team? Or the woman’s swim team? Or any number of other campus sports organizations that are divided by gender?

    Heck, what about any Dungeons and Dragons group?

    • DrBrydon
      Posted July 14, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      The teams are not private organizations. D&D groups are in trouble, though.

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    … the committee even considered requiring a sort of ‘loyalty oath’ affirmation …

    How’d that work out during the Truman administration? Was there no one on the committee from the history department?

    • DrBrydon
      Posted July 14, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Sadly enough, the president of Harvard is an historian, and old enough to know better.

  10. Veroxitatis
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Should we name this committee of busybodies the House unHarvardian activities?

  11. BubbTubb
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Here’s more SJW nonsense for you.

    Reed College in Oregon offers an all-expenses paid trip to the campus.

    The only catch is that whites are ineligible.

    • Posted July 14, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Is this legal? If a business open to the public can’t discriminate based on race how can a college?

      • GM
        Posted July 14, 2017 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        Well, if Christian bakeries are not allowed to refuse service to gays, then how could a university get away with essentially the same discriminatory policy based on race?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted July 14, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      There’s nobody in a wheelchair in that picture! On a different page Reed claims to offer subsidies to students on a needs basis, which is the way most colleges seem to help the needy prospective student. It is peculiar that they’re discriminating against the many poor Caucasians who might want to take a look at the place for free.

      I think the way around this silliness is to ‘identify’ as black etc. – see them wriggle out of that! [or don’t go there is probably for the best]

  12. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Harvard students may neither join nor participate in […] organizations that are exclusively or predominantly made up of Harvard students

    Are we sure this policy wasn’t drafted by Groucho Marx?

    Also note that Faust has announced her intention to step down next June, so the fallout from this will be somebody else’s problem.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 14, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Is her contract up, or is Mephistopheles returning to claim Doctor Faust’s soul?

  13. Posted July 14, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Harvard, the university with a larger endowment than some countries’ GDP, is worried about exclusion? Brian Leiter is right – the lack of class consciousness is appalling.

    (Which is not to say the rest of it isn’t as well, but …)

  14. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Stopping abuse, which is supposedly what this is about, is best done by changing culture, not controlling behaviour. Dressing women in burqas doesn’t stop them becoming rape victims.

    How about promoting a culture at the university of mutual respect? Crack down on individuals who do not meet a personal code of conduct. Don’t demonize people via assumptions.

    • GM
      Posted July 14, 2017 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

      That sort of culture already exists. The magnitude of the “college rape epidemic” is vastly overblown with the goal of putting precisely the kind of power we’re seeing being wielded now into the hands of the people promoting that nonsense.

      If the rape statistics being thrown around by feminists are to be believed, places like Harvard and Yale are more dangerous for women than Eastern Congo (where there is in fact a real rape epidemic, and of real rape, not imagined sexual assaults or fully consensual but later regretted sex, i.e. gang rapes by dozens of men, broken bottles being shoved down various orifices, and other inventive tortures of the sort). Does anyone in their right mind believe that this is the case?

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted July 14, 2017 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

        I think there is a problem with the way SOME feminists characterize sexual assault. I have a problem though with people lumping all feminists into the same basket because actually, most of us don’t do that. There is a problem with some men not understanding what consent means too. There are a lot of people, for example, saying Trump’s recent comments to Macron’s wife are okay. They’re not.

        Also, yes, there is a major problem with rape gangs in the Eastern Congo, and many other parts of the world. In countries where a women’s virginity is a commodity they very often aren’t reported because the woman gets at least part of the blame and her whole life is ruined. There’s a case from Saudi Arabia which you’ll find starting in the third paragraph here, for example: http://www.heatherhastie.com/the-injustice-of-sharia-in-saudi-arabia/

        However, the fact that most rape in Eastern Congo or wherever is much worse than that suffered on US college campuses does not make those rapes okay. It reminds me of a NZ politician who thought raping a woman with a gun wasn’t so bad because she couldn’t get pregnant. He was genuinely bemused at the outrage caused by his comments. He also thought it was worse for a man to be raped by a man than for a woman to be raped by a man, because man on woman is “normal” sex.

        When talking about rape, we shouldn’t be saying, “you should be pleased you weren’t tortured as well.” If you were raped, would it make you feel better to think, “at least I wasn’t tortured too.” That’s not the way to sympathize.

        • GM
          Posted July 14, 2017 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

          I have a problem though with people lumping all feminists into the same basket because actually, most of us don’t do that.

          OK, you don’t do that, but do you actively fight against the ones who are pushing for the implementation of a kangaroo court system that ruins innocent men’s lives for no reason? You probably don’t.

          However, the fact that most rape in Eastern Congo or wherever is much worse than that suffered on US college campuses does not make those rapes okay.

          College campuses are not only safe relative to Eastern Congo, they are in fact among the safest places within their own countries too. The vast majority of what constitutes the “rape epidemic on campus” is not actual rape, not even actual sexual assault, it consists of redefining what is meant by “rape” and “sexual assault” so that completely trivial things are now counted as such, plus making up stuff out of thin air.

          The “That it’s so bad in Eastern Congo does mean we should ignore the suffering of women on US college campuses” argument is bogus, because there simply isn’t much that can be objectively classified as suffering on US college campuses, there is only some relatively tiny background sexual assault rate that will always be there, and then a lot of whining by pampered self-centered spoiled drama queens who are looking for ways to attract attention and make themselves feel important.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted July 15, 2017 at 8:42 am | Permalink

            I speak out for women’s rights, as I see them, on my own website. I do not have the physical capacity to do anything else, and there are other things for me to devote my attention to than the college campuses of another country.

            Your whining gives the impression your own view is far from balanced.

  15. GM
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Well, at least it looks like they banned both fraternities and sororities.

    I fully expected them to ban only one of those two things

  16. Posted July 14, 2017 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    If they’re not going to be exclusionary, perhaps they should get rid of societies based on academic achievement. Also, maybe bands, choral groups, drama and sports should be terminated. After all, you can’t be in a band if you can’t play an instrument, a choral group if you can’t sing,in a drama if you have no acting talent, or sports if you haven’t the right type and level of athleticism.

    The whole notion of university is exclusionary.
    One should have a certain higher than normal degree of intellectual ability to be accepted. Therefore, Harvard shouldn’t exist.

    We are not going to achieve “equality” and fairness by the tactics Harvard is using. It is ludicrous. There will always be distinctions of abilities and opportunities on the bell curve.
    Help hone the abilities and provide more opportunities.

    (I was thinking of Skull & Bones that both Bush presidents were members of as an exclusionary club in this regard, but dang if it isn’t associated with Yale.)

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