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Then They Came for the Frats . . .

eye on the news

Then They Came for the Frats . . .

Harvard’s suppression of freedom of association represents a new extension of elite academic intolerance. January 10, 2018
Education

Harvard University’s planned crackdown on “unrecognized single-gender social organizations” (i.e., fraternities and sororities, or “final clubs”) was finalized last month, 33 years after the clubs agreed to sever all ties with the university. The final clubs have been entirely independent of the college since then, receiving no funding or access to facilities, communications systems, or student or alumni lists.

The new policy, first announced in May 2016 and to be implemented next semester, goes beyond disestablishing the clubs; it will actively punish their members. Students who join these unaffiliated groups will be banned from holding leadership positions on athletic teams or other recognized college organizations—and they will be denied required endorsement letters for Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships and other prestigious post-graduate fellowships, even if they meet all the criteria for these honors. And if these measures don’t bring the single-sex organizations to heel, Harvard president Drew Faust warned, the next step could be an outright ban on membership, under threat of expulsion.

The policy was originally touted as a response to sexual assault, but then, when statistical studies found that such assault was no more common at final clubs than in dormitories, the rationale shifted to both “gender inclusivity” and an even more ambiguous goal to “uphold the institution’s core values of inclusion and non-discrimination . . . along a broad range of axes, ranging from issues of gender identity to socioeconomic background to race and ethnicity.”

In other words, what Harvard is planning, in a stunning bit of authoritarianism, is to punish students for their membership in independent, off-campus groups that Harvard considers to be “at odds with our values.” But, as Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) co-founder and civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate notes, under Harvard’s reasoning, the university could take the same action against members of the Young Republican Club or the Catholic Church—or, in an admittedly alternative universe, against Democrats, Unitarians, or members of gay rights groups.

How will Harvard enforce this new policy, since, as Charles Lane of the Washington Post points out, the single-sex organizations don’t publish their membership lists? The details remain to be worked out, but an implementation committee recommended last spring that students seeking fellowships or on-campus leadership positions sign a McCarthyite affirmation that they are not now and have not been (for at least a year) a member of a prohibited organization. The college Honor Council would investigate students who “falsely affirm compliance.”

If the prospect of Harvard (and other colleges, in its wake) extending this restriction on freedom of association to membership in political or even religious organizations seems unlikely, consider: in just the few weeks since Harvard finalized its new policy, at least two schools, including the University of Virginia, have denied recognition to conservative student groups. UVA initially refused to certify a Young Americans for Freedom chapter, purportedly on the grounds that it discriminated based on political affiliation by requiring members to support certain conservative principles. And Wartburg College in Iowa denied official status to a proposed chapter of Turning Point USA, explaining that the group’s values “were not in line with the values of Wartburg College.” If Harvard can punish students for membership in independent social organizations that offend its values, and UVA and other schools can refuse to recognize political organizations that offend their values, it seems a small step to take for Harvard, UVA, and other schools to start punishing students for membership in off-campus political groups deemed offensive.

It says a lot about how far the radicalization of campus culture has progressed over the last generation that when the Harvard Left won its victory over the frats in 1984, it apparently didn’t occur to anyone to take the further step of punishing students who joined them. As silly and irrational as the Left often was then, it usually maintained a basic appreciation of constitutional rights. But now, as Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz has said, “the fog of fascism is descending over the universities.”

Photo by Roman Babakin/iStock

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