As Harvard graduates and former Overseers, we write to state our concerns with steps taken over the past two years by Harvard administrators and the Harvard Corporation to limit the First Amendment rights of free association of the Harvard undergraduate student body.
Our concern is on two levels: the governance of Harvard College, and the threats of academic and other punishments for students who exercise their legal rights in a manner not approved by the Corporation and administrators.
Regarding governance, the Statutes of Harvard University, which are essentially the Corporation's bylaws, clearly state that the responsibility for College student discipline belongs to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Appropriate rules are included in the Handbook for Students, which is approved annually by the Faculty.
When the Corporation and administration issued their final statement on Dec. 5, 2017 regarding students who join “unrecognized” single-gender clubs, they did not have the approval of the Faculty. Nor did they indicate that they planned to seek Faculty approval to put the policy in the Handbook for Students. The punishment for joining a single-gender club is ineligibility for academic endorsements such as the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships and the Fulbright Program, as well as ineligibility for leadership positions in “recognized” student organizations, including varsity captaincies. We cannot imagine a system of policing or informants that would effectively identify club members that would also be consistent with the basic values of the University.
It is clear that the Corporation has usurped the power of the Faculty. We regret the precedent this sets. Next it could be the Faculty who are told what to teach and with whom to associate. Anyone familiar with McCarthyism knows how quickly government and corporate overreach can happen.
Joan M. Hutchins ’61 is a former president of the Board of Overseers. Timothy E. Wirth ’61, a graduate of the Graduate School of Education, is a former Overseer and former United States Senator from Colorado.