Harvard turns even more authoritarian, imposing sanctions on students who belong to off-campus, single-sex social clubs

Back in May I reported (see also here:123) how Harvard University, under the aegis and urging of President Drew Faust, had proposed punishing students who join single-sex (or rather, single-“gender”) social organizations that aren’t affiliated with the University. These include the famous “finals clubs,” which include all-male and all-female as well as co-ed versions.  And these punishments can be quite severe. As I wrote in May:

Beginning with the class of 2017 [now with students entering in 2018; see below], 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.

I thought, and continue to think, that this is a terrible idea, for it violates Harvard’s own policy of allowing students freedom of association. Why should they be punished for what they do off campus so long as they adhere to the student code of conduct on campus? And I’m not the only one who thinks this; Steve Pinker weighed in here, agreeing with many Harvard faculty as well as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which sent a letter of protest to Harvard.

Under Drew Faust, Harvard hasn’t done much to burnish its image, but rather has descended into a form of authoritarian leftism increasingly afflicting Ivy League schools (see, for instance, here and here). I don’t think Faust’s been a particularly visionary President, and I’m not unhappy that she’ll be retiring next June after a decade on the job. Because I got my Ph.D. at Harvard, really enjoyed my time there, and am a bit protective of its academic reputation, I do care what happens to the school. And of course I’m always monitoring the attempts of colleges everywhere to erode student freedoms.

When I wrote Faust as a Harvard alumnus, I got this tepid response, but it was all I expected.

Dear Mr. Coyne,

Thank you very much for taking the time to write.  I appreciate having your perspective on this important set of issues, and I have taken the liberty of sharing your concerns with Dean Khurana.

Drew Faust

It’s ironic that Faust, who has pushed these punishments for single-sex association to a faculty vote, is a member of Board of Trustees for her own alma mater, Bryn Mawr College, a college that does not accept men as undergraduates, even transgender men.

Nevertheless, as Harvard Magazine reported, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) voted on November 7 to impose the sanctions (rejecting a motion to derail them by a vote of 130 against, 90 in favor). And yesterday the same magazine reported that imposition of the sanctions will begin very soon: in May of 2018, before this year’s class of new students enters. The report quotes a statement by Faust and Harvard Corporation fellow William F. Lee that was read to the FAS meeting yesterday. All the sanctions above will be applied, and students who want postgraduate fellowships or hope to have a leadership role on a sports team will have to quit their clubs. And that, of course, may kill the clubs, which is surely a goal of the new policy.

Not that I like these clubs: I wouldn’t be a member (I didn’t participate in fraternity rush in college), and I object to their exclusionary policies. But that’s irrelevant to the principle of freedom of association. Further, Faust and Lee deny that they’re “punishing” the students; rather, they are simply controlling their behavior and defining their identity:

The policy does not discipline or punish the students; it instead recognizes that students who serve as leaders of our community should exemplify the characteristics of non-discrimination and inclusivity that are so important to our campus. Ultimately, students have the freedom to decide which is more important to them: membership in a gender-discriminatory organization or access to those privileges and resources. The process of making those types of judgments, the struggle of defining oneself, one’s identity, and one’s responsibilities to a broader community, is a valuable part of the personal growth and self-exploration we seek for our undergraduates. The USGSOs, in turn, have the choice to become gender-neutral and thus permit their members full access to all institutional privileges.

This is really disingenuous, because of course the new rule punishes and disciplines students who belong to off campus single-sex clubs (remember, several of these prohibit men from joining): it forbids them from getting certain positions on College teams and from applying for scholarships. You simply can’t get a Rhodes or Marshall scholarship, for instance, without a letter of endorsement from your college.

It’s perfectly acceptable (and laudable) for the College to prohibit sex discrimination in its own organizations, but I see no right they have to enforce such behavior for organizations that are private. It’s as if sexist, racist, or anti-religious epithets were also punished when uttered in students’ private homes or apartments—on the grounds that they don’t contribute to the “Harvard identity”. But that violates freedom of speech, and such a rule wouldn’t stand in court.

As Faust and Lee issued their statement, Dean Khurana (see above) also issued a statement to the incoming class—the first class subject to the new policy. While the goals outlined by the Dean are laudable, the sanctions they’ll impose smack of Big-Brotherism. Here’s an excerpt (see more documents and statements at the Harvard Magazine piece); noet the allusion to Trumpian America:

Because we are a diverse community, we will not always agree —on our priorities, on the right solutions to our problems, or even on what a Harvard education means and should be.  But we have much common ground. As applicants to Harvard, each of you inspired us with your plans to make a difference in the world and your hopes to inspire those around you. Each of you sought out this unique opportunity to learn from your peers who come from different backgrounds and from all over the world. Now, as Harvard students, you each play a part in helping Harvard College create this diverse, multi-generational, and inclusive community of learning. Our debates about how to create our community may be intense, but we must continue to see each other as fellow members of one community, with obligations to each other.

Changes here at Harvard are occurring against the backdrop of so much division and anger in the United States. Those divisions will not be easily repaired, and the community we create here on campus matters more than ever. . .

How will the University find out who belongs to single-sex clubs? A statement from another dean notes darkly that “enforcing any regulatory policy relies on self-reporting (or perhaps reports from other students.)” In other words, ratting is encouraged. Don’t like one of your classmates? If he or she is a member of a finals club, just tell the dean!

In the end, this is a black mark on Harvard, on the faculty who voted for the measure, and on the legacy of Drew Faust, which, I think, will not be a good one. I agree with what Professor of English Helen Vender said at the November 7 faculty meeting (Vender, like me, doesn’t like finals clubs). This is one of her five reasons for voting against the measure:

Punishing a student for having joined an unrecognized single-sex group by ruling out his or her access, on that account, to overseas fellowships and leadership positions on campus is to confuse two distinct areas of college life by making access to intellectual progress or leadership consequent on private behavior.

h/t: Greg Mayer



  1. Posted December 6, 2017 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    It is nobody’s business what clubs one chooses or chooses not to join! Fascists.

    • Posted December 6, 2017 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      Actually it can only be a matter of time before the Rhodes scholarship has to change its name…

  2. Mike
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Hmm. So I joined the male only Round Table, raised thousands for charity, started a new fund raising event that has been running every year for over a decade, and would be punished were I at Harvard. Silly people.

  3. Liz
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    It looks like most of the clubs were initially male and dating back to the 1800s or before. The all female clubs look like they were formed more recently.


    • Liz
      Posted December 6, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      Also fourth to last paragraph: note*

  4. mikeyc
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    How is gender exclusivity determined? If one of these clubs said the mens could join but then none did, would that count?

  5. Posted December 6, 2017 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Good Lord! None of your freaking business, what they do off campus, on their free time! Digusting! 👎☹️🐲

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    People who control people are the miserablest people in the world.

  7. Posted December 6, 2017 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Forced culture – nope, very enlightened. Thanks, Obama! /s

  8. Posted December 6, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Your commentary and The Pinkah’s response imply it was left unclear what such a policy is trying to achieve.

    However, it comes in a time when gender-bathroom concerns are also on the table, and when the categorization into two genders is itself considered “problematic”.

    This and similar coincidences make it seem as if “diversity” stands for accommodating a “nonbinary gender-spectrum”, and those who don’t identify as “cis-gender”, and who might not be accepted by such organisations.

    It appears as if Harvard is motivated more in symbolism and wants to sidestep the “gender-spectrum” inclusiveness by simply levelling anything “cis-normative”. That is a zeitgeist. It is known to rustle jimmies to address women in matters of pregnancy, and even in this area, there’s now a similar drive to expunge genders. Not women get pregnant, but people.

    I don’t know about auch organisations in the US, but typically, they are on the conservative side. Even if they were opened up on paper to anyone, I doubt they woud attract such a “diverse” audience. And if they did, I doubt they would let in people that don’t fit their (conservative) subculture.

    In the end, it’s another non-solution, but a highly symbolical, ideological move. The critical race/gender theorists, so-called intersectional “social justice” activists have a fixation on changing superstructure by authoritarian means, because they think this affects the conciousness of the base. If there are no references to “gender-binary”, they think, sexes and genders themselves cease to exist.

    Steven Pinker could hand out his stash of Blank Slate books.

    • Posted December 6, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      This raises an interesting possible problem for Harvard. What about homosexual or transgender people joining off-campus support groups?

      That must also be punished!

    • Jon Gallant
      Posted December 6, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Aneris shrewdly points out: “The critical race/gender theorists, so-called intersectional “social justice” activists have a fixation on changing superstructure by authoritarian means, because they think this affects the conciousness of the base.” Exactly right.

      Their very idea turns Marxism on its head, but is consistent with the tropes of post-modernism: i.e., change the “texts” in the superstructure to change the underlying basic phenomena—in this instance Biology. I wonder if Drew Faust (or other originators of this Harvard policy) came out of sites of post-modernist inflammation in Academia.

      • eric
        Posted December 6, 2017 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        This is one of the main points of The Language Police (now, what, 20 years old?) That both the far left and far right think that if they enforce limitations on speech, they can cause people to think differently. If teens can’t talk about sex, they won’t have sex! If teens aren’t allowed to say the word “fat,” they won’t be prejudiced against overweight kids! Or Harvard’s version: if young adults are forced to be inclusive in their clubs, they’ll become more inclusive in their thinking!

        Doesn’t work. At least not very well. And in some cases, especially with teens and young adults, authoritarian older people saying “you can’t do X” is probably the most surefire way to get the younger generation to want to do X.

  9. Desnes Diev
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Are they wanting to create secret societies?

    What is verboten is often attractive. Perhaps student would love the mysteries and the thrill of the (relatively small) danger of being caught.

    The wardrobes left empty by, say, the LGBTQ could serve for the new pariahs. Strange times.

  10. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    The legacy of fraternities is a mixed one.

    40 out of the 47 most recent members of the Supreme Court were members of fraternities or sororities, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Phi Beta Kappa – the most prestigious of the bunch.

    On the other hand, three separate studies have indicated that fraternity men are three times more likely to commit rape than other men on college campuses.

    But surely, belonging to a gender-exclusive club is not per se a crime.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 6, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      For my money, in this piece for The Atlantic, “The Dark Power of Fraternities,” Caitlin Flanagan wrote one of the great ledes in American journalism.

      Never wanted anything to do with ’em myself, but then I’ve got a Groucho-like aversion to joining.

      • Craw
        Posted December 6, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        Sounds to me then that you have established a club of one — all male, all white.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted December 6, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

          John Donne & Paul Simon both said no man is an island, but I’ma give it hell tryin’. 🙂

          • Posted December 6, 2017 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

            Maybe no man is an island but some are well isolated peninsulas. Or isthmuses.

          • Taz
            Posted December 6, 2017 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

            “I don’t know how people can be prejudiced –
            there’s so many good reasons to hate people on an individual basis.”

            — Unknown

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    In other words, ratting is encouraged.

    As brother Bill Burroughs warned, we’ve become “a nation of finks.”

  12. Curtis
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    My wife and my high school daughter both have been recruited by the Society of Women Engineers. If my daughter goes to one of their programs, I guess she would be evil in some way.

    BTW, my wife refused because she thinks of herself as an engineer not a woman engineer.

    • Posted January 27, 2018 at 2:52 am | Permalink

      Girls at my son’s computer-oriented high school, comprising some 4-5% of students, have organized a Young Ladies’ Club. I find it normal for youths to feel comfortable with others of the same sex.

  13. Posted December 6, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I wonder what sort of investigation times and resources will be needed to enforce this policy!

  14. Linda
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Does this mean a Girl Scout Gold Star recipient at Harvard cannot become a Rhodes Scholar?

    • Posted December 6, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Yes. And I guess the same goes for a den mother of a girl scout troop.

      • Paul S
        Posted December 6, 2017 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        Now that you bring it up, once you’re a Girl Scout Gold Star recipient or an Eagle Scout, you’re one for life.

  15. Jonathan Dore
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I wonder what the situation would be with someone joining an organization that strictly enforces gender segregation in all its activities — like, say, a mosque …

    • harrync
      Posted December 6, 2017 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

      I often wish WEIT had a “like” button; that would save me the trouble of doing a post to say I liked your comment about joining a mosque. But while I’m here, let me add that I think is quite arrogant that Harvard thinks they can black-ball Rhodes scholars; I would hope the Rhodes people have some response to that.

  16. DrBrydon
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Vender’s comment about private behavior misses the point. This is all about controlling private behavior.

    • darrelle
      Posted December 6, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think she missed that.

  17. Posted December 6, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Outrageous. While I despise fraternities/sororities, and have no idea what a finals club might be, this is off-campus behavior. That the university thinks they should control it is just unreasonable. I like to think of myself as a progressive. I applaud efforts to educate people on issues of gender, rape culture, and intersectionality, and encourage appropriate behavior. But this is ridiculous overreach.

    • Max Blancke
      Posted December 6, 2017 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

      But for the intersectional evangelists, whether their measures are ethical or even productive is beside the point.
      If they ever contrive a way to exert control over you, they will do it. And they will never stop. There is no final concession you can make that will satisfy them
      Their goals are a utopian society that can never exist, but they will destroy anything and anyone in the quest to achieve it.

  18. Craw
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    “ratting is encouraged”

    I am glad someone said this. I do think this is part of the idea, an implicit goal of the initiative. Not merely to oppose single sex clubs, but to establish that your highest duty is to spy for the powers that be.

    Next up, a statue to Pavlik Morozov.

    • Posted December 6, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      “Next up, a statue to Pavlik Morozov.”

      Most appropriate especially since the boy didn’t do what he is said to have done.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 6, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      As Whitaker Chambers said (and who would know better about snitching?):

      “On the road of the informer, it is always night. I cannot ever inform against anyone without feeling something die within me.”

      • BJ
        Posted December 6, 2017 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

        You always have the best quotes.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 6, 2017 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      “single sex clubs”

      There, for want of a hyphen, go a bunch of randy guys lined up behind a velvet rope. 🙂

      • Posted December 7, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        Paradoxically, a lot of *those* would not be single sex organizations. (Though the gay ones would be, I guess.)

  19. µ
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    typos “final club”, not “finals club”.
    Or were the typos perhaps on purpose for a reason that I missed?

    • Liz
      Posted December 6, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      I didn’t notice that difference because I’m not too familiar with these clubs. I don’t really like bringing up typos but since it’s important to some people, I mentioned above the noet in the third, actually, not fourth to last paragraph.

  20. Posted December 6, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Colleges shouldn’t even know what organisations you belong to off campus, let alone dictate which they are.

  21. Andy Lowry
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    So, if a young woman finds it useful to be a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, and finds that women’s meetings are the best fit for her, what then? I guess it’d be hard to get caught in that situation, what with the anonymity and all, but there’s always a rat somewhere.

    • Taz
      Posted December 6, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      How about a women’s softball league – or golf league?

  22. Jake Sevins
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Some BLM events are blacks only. I wonder if Harvard would punish these people? What about a women’s yoga class? No go? What about a women’s sexual assault support group?

    Punishing people for private acts seems way over the line. It’s fairly close to punishing people for thought crimes (which I’m sure would be next, if it were possible).

    I guess we could “self report” our thought crimes?! Then Harvard could enforce ideological purity and get the representatives who truly reflect Faust’s politics and views.

  23. Taz
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    The statements by Faust and Khurana are dripping with self-serving bullshit.

  24. Posted December 6, 2017 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    That’s a dangerous bargain Harvard has made with its president.

  25. eric
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    These include the famous “finals clubs,” which include all-male and all-female as well as co-ed versions.

    Maybe the all-male clubs and all-female clubs can work out a reciprocity deal, where they agree to consider each others’ members as members in their own clubs. With the tacit understanding that the women will never exercise their membership in the mens’ club and vice versa.

  26. Steve Gerrard
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    What percent of students are ever candidates for team captains or these scholarships? It seems like it will only affect the few at the top of the various piles.

    Also, after some digging, it turns out that you have to be free of these clubs a year before and a year after being a captain or getting a scholarship. So you can join the club you like, and then quit a year ahead of time if you are likely to qualify for a captain or scholarship spot.

    It’s a muddle of a policy without clear thinking on how it will work in practice.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 7, 2017 at 1:59 am | Permalink

      “a year before and a year after being a captain or getting a scholarship.”

      So, if you’re captain of the XX team for a year, and – *immediately on retiring from the captainship* join one of these clubs – what they gonna do? Rewrite history? Retrospectively demote ya?

      I’d love to do it, just to tweak them. Not that I’d ever have been captain of anything, but still…


  27. Gordon
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    we ” are simply … defining their identity.” How very North Korean of them.

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