Table of Contents

‘Gravely Concerned’ Over Social Club Sanctions, FIRE Writes to Harvard

Marcio Jose Bastos Silva/

FIRE has asked Harvard University to reverse the “illiberal and chilling new policy” aimed at students who join unrecognized single-sex social organizations.

The policy would prohibit student-members of an array of clubs—from Harvard’s “final clubs” to any fraternity or sorority—from holding leadership positions in recognized student organizations or on athletic teams and render them ineligible for a dean’s endorsement for the prestigious Rhodes and Marshall scholarships and other post-graduate scholarships and fellowships.

We outlined our serious concerns about Harvard’s new policy in a letter sent to Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust today.

FIRE’s letter criticized Harvard’s encroachment on the autonomy of officially-recognized student groups to choose their own leaders by marking a subset of students (ones in single-gender clubs) as unfit to serve—implicating the freedom of association rights of all Harvard students. FIRE also challenged Harvard’s assertion that student leaders “in a very real sense represent the College” to justify the policy. This is particularly troubling given numerous past statements to the contrary.

Perhaps most severe are the dark implications of whatever enforcement mechanism Harvard devises to implement the policy:

Will students, for instance, be forced to disclose their memberships in these organizations, under possible pain of discipline? Will student organizations be forced to furnish their membership lists to the university? Will a panel of elected or selected Harvard officials question students suspected of being part of these disfavored organizations? Harvard so far appears to be unwilling to confront these uncomfortable yet obvious questions about how it will administer this new policy, perhaps because doing so raises the specter of McCarthyism—a deeply lamentable period in American history in which individuals, including many members of academic communities, faced persecution and blacklisting for having the “wrong” affiliations. Harvard should not revive that period’s tactics and methods.

FIRE calls on Harvard to reverse this illiberal new policy and protect the freedom of association of all its students equally. Newsdesk readers can write directly to President Faust and encourage Harvard to change course as well.

We’ll continue providing updates on this troubling case as they come.

Recent Articles

FIRE’s award-winning Newsdesk covers the free speech news you need to stay informed.