President Faust has recently suggested that those who oppose the new policy on Final Clubs are motivated by resistance to “change” and to “inclusion.” We are four of the professors offering a motion before the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to prohibit discrimination against students on the basis of their organizational memberships. To be clear: None of us is defending the final clubs, nor do we fear change or inclusion. But ends do not always justify means, and the new policy is deeply objectionable, on both substantive and procedural grounds.
Citing the Sexual Assault Task Force Report, the policy claims to “address deeply rooted gender attitudes, and the related issues of sexual misconduct.” The report rests its case against the final clubs on a statistic: Seniors who “participated” in final club activities are more likely than seniors in general to have experienced sexual assault. Of course, this correlation does not imply that clubs cause sexual assaults. It suggests only that students who have attended a final club party (the report’s definition of “participation”) are more likely than their non-“participating” peers to experience sexual assault somewhere, sometime. The new policy is not the obvious response to this unsurprising finding—and indeed, is not among the report’s specific recommendations. Reducing sexual assaults on campus—and especially in the Houses, where most take place—requires thoughtful discussion and hard work. The policy encourages neither, and is less likely to reduce sexual assault than to cultivate the illusion of decisive action.
Moreover, the policy sweeps all single-gender social organizations into the same basket—fraternities and sororities, clubs that host parties, and those that bar non-members from their premises. Yet it does not apply to recognized de facto single-gender organizations and, according to one report, may not apply to final clubs either if they remain single-gender but cynically tweak their bylaws.
A related concern is that unenforced policies sow disdain for all rules. Yet any effective enforcement mechanism for this new policy would require students to inform on their peers—encouraging exactly the sort of poisonous conduct that we sought to avoid when implementing the Honor Code.
Some have suggested that everything else has been tried, and Harvard has to do something about final clubs. But we are not aware of any aggressive educational campaign about the dangers of the clubs. Nor does the College call in the police when final club parties disturb the peace, since it has been reluctant to encourage the arrest of its own students. Such alternatives should be considered before we make rules that infringe basic civil liberties.
Neither the FAS nor any of its committees (including the Committee on Student Life) considered this policy—or debated alternatives—before it was announced. What does it say about Faculty governance of the College that it was given no opportunity to discuss a policy that materially affects thousands of undergraduates?
Most troubling to some of us is the policy’s rationale, which threatens freedom of association and of thought. “Discrimination is pernicious,” begins the syllogism; single gender clubs are discriminatory; therefore, anyone who belongs to such a club does not “advance our core institutional values.” Consequently, Harvard should deny those students certain privileges.
That is, Harvard would have a values test. The president and the dean have identified certain values which Rhodes and Marshall nominees, team captains, and student leaders are expected to “advance” in their private lives, not merely to observe on campus. Membership in a noncompliant organization is considered sufficient proxy for failure to “advance” these values.
Perhaps not since the Puritan era has Harvard assumed such a posture of authority over the beliefs and associations of its students. In modern times, the faculty has instead voted rules of behavior and sanctions for violating them, not rules of thought and tests for determining commitment to Harvard’s “values.”
Where would this train of logic lead? How many other associations to which students belong might be judged, with equal or greater plausibility, to be hostile to Harvard’s “values of non-discrimination”? What of the undergraduate who joins a lobbying organization that opposes gay marriage or one that combats affirmative action programs in higher education? Is membership in the Republican Party less an affront to “our deepest values” than membership of the Fly? How about the Daughters of the American Revolution—or the Roman Catholic Church?
We are not the first to notice the alarming implications of the new policy. Students have already asked us if they should hide their religious and political affinities if they hope someday to receive Harvard’s support. How can they be confident that a fellowship nominating committee will not hold their religious or political convictions against them, if these might run afoul of Harvard’s “values”?
The new policy would likewise set the stage for new forms of political litigation on campus. Right to Life groups would claim that students working for Planned Parenthood promote discrimination against the unborn, while pro-choice advocates would insist that pro-life organizations champion discrimination against women. Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli students would swap claims of ties to groups practicing ethnic discrimination.
And why should faculty be held to a lower standard than students? Academic freedom is well and good, the argument would go, but when we decide whose research to support or whom to appoint as dean or department chair, shouldn’t Harvard’s fundamental values count at least as much as they do when the presidency of the Chess Club is at stake? Why should faculty seeking advancement get away with connections to organizations that are judged to be hostile to “our values”?
When ROTC was barred from campus for its discriminatory policies, the Verba Committee considered and rejected sanctions against students who chose to become cadets. “Harvard is not and should not be responsible for the policies and practices of the wide variety of external organizations in which its students may choose to participate,” the report read. “[I]ntrusion by the University into the private choices of students, acting as individuals, to … participate in such external activities would, we believe, be unacceptably paternalistic.” A wise principle, which then went without saying formally. Evidently it needs saying today, and our motion says it.
Harry R. Lewis ’68 is the Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science. Eric M. Nelson ’99 is the Robert M. Beren Professor of Government. Margo I. Seltzer ’83 is the Herchel Smith Professor of Computer Science. Richard F. Thomas is the George Martin Lane Professor of the Classics.
The Need for NuanceMost significantly, we are troubled by the University’s choice to group male final clubs, female final clubs, fraternities, and sororities.
Summers Denounces Final Club Sanctions
The Once and Future Harvard College: From Exclusion to EqualityThese fears of hypothetical future abuses of administrative authority promote a status quo of exclusion and privilege that reflects Harvard’s past, not its future.
News Analysis: With Sanctions Goal, Admins Shift from Sexual Assault Prevention
Sanctions May Be ‘Interim Step’ in Broader Effort, Faust Says