Harvard Campus CREDIT Jannis Tobias Werner  Shutterstock.com feat

(Jannis Tobias Werner/Shutterstock.com)

Harvard committee proposes banning all social clubs; punishing violators

By and July 12, 2017

Harvard students could soon be banned from joining any private social organization or club.

If the recommendations contained in a just-released, 22-page report are enacted, Harvard would extend previously-proposed sanctions against students joining single-gender clubs, to all “fraternities, sororities, and similar organizations,” regardless of their co-ed status. And instead of instituting a blacklist — leaving non-compliant students unable to captain Harvard-recognized sports teams, or be nominated for prestigious scholarships, for example — violators would be subject to formal “disciplinary action.”

This latest proposal comes from the same faculty committee empaneled to “revise or replace” a previous, controversial proposal to blacklist members of single-gender clubs in an effort to foster campus inclusivity. FIRE has repeatedly criticized that policy as being antithetical to the promises of freedom of association Harvard makes to its students.

This new report — which suggests the university follow in the steps of Williams College and Bowdoin College by attempting to do away with social clubs altogether — goes even further, asking that students be prohibited from joining any clubs that foster any measure of exclusivity, with a particular emphasis on completely “phas[ing] out” single gender social organizations by the year 2022. In practice, however, the new ban would eradicate even co-ed clubs:

Harvard students may neither join nor participate in final clubs, fraternities or sororities, or other similar private, exclusionary social organizations that are exclusively or predominantly made up of Harvard students, whether they have any local or national affiliation, during their time in the College. The College will take disciplinary action against students who are found to be participating in such organizations. Violations will be adjudicated by the Administrative Board.

In a dissent included in the report, the lone objecting committee member, biology and genetics professor David Haig, criticizes both the policy’s scope and substance, writing that the proposal would make social club membership “incompatible with being a Harvard undergraduate,” and “proposes an escalation of the conflict between unrecognized social organizations and Harvard College.” Haig writes:

The sanctions policies have involved a conflict between competing goods: on the one hand, respect for student autonomy and freedom of association; on the other hand, nondiscrimination and inclusivity. The report strongly favors the latter over the former goods. I continue to favor a balance more on the side of student autonomy because I am unconvinced that the policy, when implemented, will solve the latter problems.

He goes on to criticize the report’s suggestion of “deep unhappiness among students with the social environment created by the clubs” when, in fact, a student referendum showed that a plurality of student voters opposed the single-gender sanctions proposal.

Haig tells FIRE he’s unsure how much control the full faculty will have over the implementation of the proposal.

“I will be on sabbatical but will try and come back for any faculty meeting,” Haig told FIRE via email from Australia. “At present, it is unclear whether the report will be accepted by [President] Drew Faust and [Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences] Mike Smith,” Haig said. “If it is accepted, it is unclear whether it would be brought to the faculty for approval rather than just comment.”

Haig added that he believes professor Harry R. Lewis, the former Dean of Harvard College, will revive the freedom of association motion he previously brought before the faculty.

FIRE is currently reviewing the full 22-page report and seeking comment from more affected members of the campus community.

Check back soon for more on this developing story.

Schools: Harvard University Cases: Harvard University: Blacklisting of Final Club, Fraternity, and Sorority Students