Dear Harvard…

By May 25, 2017

This letter originally ran as a full-page ad (embedded below) in The Harvard Crimson May 25th, 2017.

Congratulations, students and parents, on this day of momentous importance. We sincerely hope you will carry with you the liberal ideals of education, discourse, and tolerance that strengthen our democracy.

During your time at Harvard, you have enjoyed an indispensable right guaranteed to private citizens in the United States: freedom of association. Unfortunately, the Harvard Class of 2017 may be the last class to experience a campus that benefits from this freedom.

Harvard has deemed sororities, fraternities, and final clubs “discriminatory” due to their single-gender status and decided they must be stamped out. However, because those organizations are fully independent and receive no support from the university, Harvard has decided to do this by literally blacklisting those accused of being members.

Students seeking leadership positions on campus, post-graduate fellowships at Harvard, or prestigious programs like the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships will be required to affirm that they are not now, and have not recently been, members of single-gender social organizations. Those accused of being members, or suspected of lying about it, will be brought to trial before a closed-door tribunal, just as Harvard did with students accused of being homosexual in the 1920s. This is a clear abridgement of their freedom of association and an intolerable invasion into the personal lives of students.

Harvard alumni who were once members of these groups (including many of you, or your friends, and/or your sons and daughters) should recognize that Harvard administrators consider membership in single-gender groups to be so loathsome that members should be denied the full benefits of a Harvard education.

This is hardly the will of the overall Harvard community. In a November referendum, students voted nearly 2:1 against the sanctions policy. Over the past year, faculty members have introduced two separate motions to counteract this egregious policy. Hundreds of women marched in protest of the sanctions policy in the “Hear Her Harvard” campaign. Students, faculty, and alumni recognize that this policy runs contrary to the basic values of respect, honesty, excellence, and accountability that Harvard promises to uphold.

Why, then, is it happening? Because it represents the will of administrators who have acted to avoid accountability to the faculty and students that they serve. The history of this policy is an appalling testament to this fact.

A year ago, Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana proposed this policy, which was accepted the very same day by President Drew Gilpin Faust. Dean Khurana then empaneled an implementation committee to deliberate, in secret, on how the policy would be enforced.

Concerned by the fact that they had not been consulted, Harvard faculty members, led by former Harvard dean Harry R. Lewis, drew up a motion that would have nullified the policy, stating that Harvard may not discriminate against students for their lawful associations.

The administration delayed the vote on this motion for several months. On the eve of the final vote, Dean Khurana announced that, with the faculty’s objections in mind, he would empanel a new committee composed of faculty to “revise or replace” the policy. Taking this measure as a gesture of good faith, Professor Lewis pulled the motion before any vote took place.

Lewis’ open hand was met with a closed fist. Not long after the motion was pulled, the implementation committee released its recommendations. Those recommendations included delegating the enforcement of the policy to the Honor Council, cleverly circumventing the traditional disciplinary channels, which are under the purview of the faculty, and instituting a legally questionable three- to five-year exception for female-only groups. Dean Khurana immediately announced that he would accept “nearly all” of the recommendations. He had not yet even empaneled the faculty committee he had promised.

When the faculty committee finally was appointed, it was led by none other than Dean Khurana. Only a single faculty member opposing the sanctions was appointed to the 19-person committee.

To review: Dean Khurana proposed a policy, accepted the recommendations of an implementation committee he hand-picked, and is now leading the committee he appointed to review his own policy, a committee he stacked with people who have already demonstrated support for the policy. This is the reality of how Harvard operates in 2017.

Parents, alumni, and soon-to-be alumni of Harvard: You deserve better. Voice your discontent. Injustice like this thrives in the silence of good men and women. Think of how Harvard has treated its students and faculty before you think about donating or otherwise supporting a school that would deny you, your siblings, or your children basic freedoms. We at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) will continue to fight illiberal policies like these at Harvard and wherever else they surface.


  1. Harvard dean: I will implement ‘nearly all’ of super blacklist
  2. Harvard blacklist saga gets even more unbelievable as dean appoints self to review self
  3. Harvard anti-gender discrimination policy threatens to violate Title IX by recommending gender discrimination
  4. Harvard’s Troubled History with Free Association: Part 1
  5. Harvard’s Troubled History with Free Association: Part 2

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