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FIRE to Harvard alumni: Urge Harvard to protect freedom of association

Calling all Harvard alumni: Harvard students need your help! As you may already know, two weeks ago, a university committee recommended that students be punished by the Administrative Board if they are believed to have joined any off-campus social club. Not just single-gender clubs, any club at all!

FIRE has helped lead the fight against administrators’ plan to blacklist, and now outright discipline, students for joining sororities, fraternities, or final clubs because we believe in the fundamental human right of freedom of association, a right that Harvard promises to its students. This latest recommendation, which would entirely wipe out freedom of association for Harvard students, has served as an unfortunate confirmation that our concerns are justified.

But there is hope. With current Harvard President Drew Faust stepping down next year, alumni have an opportunity to voice their opinions to the presidential search committee. We ask you to send a strong message of support for students’ right to freely associate and to recommend that whoever becomes Harvard’s 29th president uphold this important value.

Alumni have strong grounds to criticize the recommended ban on social organizations. Even among the committee that supposedly “recommended” punishing students for joining outside clubs, the Crimson reports that only seven members of the 27-person Committee on the Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations actually voted for an all-out ban.

Several prominent alumni have voiced concern over the damage such a ban would do to Harvard’s reputation. Renowned Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker wrote, “this illiberal policy can only contribute to the impression in the country at large that elite universities are not dispassionate forums for clarifying values, analyzing problems, and proposing evidence-based solutions, but are institutions determined to impose their ideology and values on a diverse population by brute force.”

And former Dean of Harvard College Harry R. Lewis, who has courageously led the fight against the policy from within Harvard, stated that “[T]he report displays a lack of confidence in Harvard’s mission to educate students to make choices for themselves. . . . This is not the way to prepare the citizens of a free society.”

What can concerned alumni do? The presidential search committee is currently soliciting input in three areas:

  • the principal opportunities and challenges likely to face Harvard and higher education in the coming years and the priorities that our new president should have most in mind;
  • the qualities and experience most important in the next president;
  • any individuals you believe warrant serious consideration as possible candidates.

This is a great opportunity to tell the presidential search committee that you want a president that respects and prioritizes students’ rights to free expression and free association. Harvard is risking litigation and irreparable damage to its reputation with its proposed ban. Please voice your opinion to Harvard’s search committee by emailing your thoughts to

Please only contact Harvard’s presidential search committee if you have a legitimate association with Harvard University.

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