Harvard faculty members have voted to put a limit on the right of students to exercise their constitutionally protected freedom of association.
The policy was imposed last year when the institution approved a politically correct blacklist of students who participate in any “single-sex” social organization.
Such as fraternities and sororities.
It started with a letter signed by Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust endorsing a policy proposed by university official Rakesh Khurana.
Khurana proposed that any student who belongs to an “unrecognized single-gender social organization” would “not be eligible to hold leadership positions in recognized student organizations or athletic teams.”
Violators also would be deprived of any “dean’s endorsement letters for those fellowships that require such endorsements.”
The education rights group FIRE said at the time the PC policy was a “stunning attack on freedom of association.”
Students on the blacklist are barred from Rhodes and Marshall scholarships and from leadership of on-campus organizations or athletic teams, FIRE said.
It’s been nearly two years, and the university has had multiple discussions about the issue. A non-discrimination policy that would overrule the blacklist was proposed, and it all came down to a vote this week by faculty.
The motion failed, however, by a vote of 130 to 90.
“The motion’s failure represents a significant setback for the state of civil liberties at Harvard, particularly because Harvard faculty had nearly two years to consider it,” FIRE said.
The proposal, from Professor Harry R. Lewis, read that Harvard would not “discriminate against students on the basis of organizations they join, political parties with which they affiliate, nor social, political or other affinity groups they join, as long as those organizations, parties, or groups have not been judged to be illegal.”
But that was too much for the elite professors.
In a posted statement, Lewis argued for freedom of association.
“It has been said that we need to be idealistic, to create the best possible environment for our students. But idealism is not the same as utopianism. The history of utopian undertakings is not encouraging. Utopias have an official version of social harmony and tend to punish nonconformists. Students come to Harvard not for a social utopia, but for a liberal education in all its tensions and complexity, an education that teaches them how to use the freedom they enjoy, with advice but without coercion,” he wrote.
FIRE said that as “discouraging as this development is, the process is not over.”
Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, an alumna and board member of the proudly and exclusively single-sex Bryn Mawr College, has yet to announce which recommendation she will pursue as policy.
“We hope that she will take the fact that 90 faculty members voted in opposition to any sanctions very seriously,” FIRE said.
The Harvard Crimson reported Thomas Dingman, a dean, argued “that the clubs create a toxic and exclusive environment on campus.”
He also disclosed that as an undergraduate, he was a member of one of Harvard’s all-male final clubs, which date back to the 18th century.
Last year, when the policy was implemented, “FIRE’s executive director, Robert Shibley, said “outrageously, Harvard has decided that 2016 is the right time to revive the blacklist.”
“This year’s undesirables are members of off-campus clubs that don’t match Harvard’s political preferences. In the 1950s, perhaps communists would have been excluded. I had hoped that universities were past the point of asking people, ‘Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of a group we don’t like?’ Sadly, they are not.”
Harvey Silverglate, a Harvard Law alumnus and FIRE’s civil liberties lawyer, took up the criticism at the time.
“Harvard’s decision simply demonstrates that it is willing to sacrifice students’ basic freedom of association to the whims of whoever occupies the administrative suites today,” he said.
“Who’s to say that Harvard’s leaders five years from now won’t decide that Catholics or Republicans should be blacklisted because they might not line up with Harvard’s preferred values?”