Lisa J. Schkolnick v. The Fly Club is a strange and complex legal case.
Schkolnick, a campus liberal who would like nothing better than to Swat the Fly, Zip the Fly and Fry the Fly, filed suit because she was unable to Join the Fly.
But while the legal debate is convoluted, arcane and ringing with irony, the moral issues of final club discrimination are perfectly straightforward. While we can deplore clubs' refusals to admit women, the spirit of our federal laws gives the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) no right to force them to do so. On moral grounds, MCAD's decision not to interfere was entirely appropriate.
THOSE of us who carefully memorized the liberties protected by the First Amendment in fifth grade will recall that freedom of assembly did make the list.
"Because they discriminate" is not a compelling reason. A free society cannot attack every instance of discrimination without revoking the rights of private individuals to choose their companions.
A blanket anti-discrimination rule would force single-sex sports teams, counseling groups and choirs to admit members of the opposite sex. Taken to its logical totalitarian extreme, this principle would prevent adoptive parents from requesting a boy or a girl.
A compelling reason to integrate the final clubs would exist if their discrimination excluded women from an equal opportunity to succeed in America. Our government does not, and should not, tolerate discrimination by federal agencies, public schools or even private firms. To do so would deny citizens the guarantee of a level playing field that justifies the unequal outcomes that may arise from free competition.
Disgruntled activists claim that "networking" gives club members an unfair advantage in obtaining work in the amorphous "business world."
"Networking" evokes images of power lunches between slimy, cigartoting bosses and slick sycophants with suspenders and numerals after their names. But there is nothing illegal about making or using connections.
To be sure, final club alumni have access to a large network of graduate members. (Schkolnick does not claim that undergraduates use the Fly Club for business purposes.) But so do graduates who played on certain athletic teams in college, performed in certain theatrical clubs, wrote for certain daily newspapers, or attended certain Ivy League institutions in the first place.
When I graduate, I will be particularly well-connected in the Claverly Hall 52 Club, which presently consists of five Jewish white males.
Fly Club graduates who want to give members an advantage in the hiring process are still bound by federal hiring laws in selecting employees. Violations of these statues constitute just cause for discrimination suits. Firms that discriminate against potential employees deprive them of a chance to pursue their ends, a chance guaranteed by our government.
Yes, gender discrimination is pervasive in the business world, and difficult to prove. But does Schkolnick really think that her admission to the Fly Club would be her ticket into the old-boy network? And even if the Fly Club shuts down, will its old boy alumni suddenly abandon their preference for upscale white males?
THERE is no right to membership in a private club. Schkolnick contends that the Fly Club is not a private club at all, but a public social organization subject to Massachusetts discrimination statutes. To bolster this argument, two of her sneaky friends submitted a sworn affidavit explaining how they attended a club party without being invited.
Legally, Schkolnick may have a point; she's a law student who knows a lot more torts than I do. But her argument disguises the moral absurdity of her position: insofar as the Fly Club is a party-throwing, public, social organization (although certainly not a major component of most Harvard students' social lives), it does not discriminate against women.
Although I have never attended a final club party (read: I'm taking the moral high ground), I understand that it is men who get excluded from these events. Apparently, final clubs like women quite a lot in their social role.
I'm certainly appalled by this blatant discrimination against my gender. But I don't plan to file suit to gain entry to final club parties. The way to defeat final clubs' contribution to the old-boy network is not to attend final clubs, or to join final clubs, or to take them to court.
The best we can do is ignore them.