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Harvard Faculty and Former President Oppose University’s Threat of Sanctions for Independent Club Members

Two weeks ago, FIRE wrote Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust to express our grave concern over the institution’s plan to impose harsh sanctions on students who join independent, single-sex, off-campus organizations. Under the plan, students who join those groups would be prevented from serving in leadership roles in officially recognized organizations or from receiving recommendations for scholarships and fellowships.  

Today, The Harvard Crimson reports that Harvard faculty have joined FIRE in publicly criticizing the new plan, submitting a sharply-worded motion arguing that students must be able to “exercise their civil right to free assembly without fear that Harvard will disadvantage them because they have joined an organization that does not comply with Harvard policies.”

The faculty members argue that because “[r]ecent administrative proposals suggest that there is uncertainty about the limits of Harvard’s control over students’ lives,” the motion “is needed to protect the rights of current and future students—and, indeed, by extension, the rights of current and future faculty and staff.”

The twelve signatories are members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and include Professor Harry Lewis, a former Dean of the College, and Professor Richard Losick, a member of FIRE’s Board of Directors. Professor Lewis also wrote current Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana privately earlier this month, urging him to reverse course.

In an interview with the Crimson published today, former Harvard University president and current University Professor Lawrence H. Summers joined his colleagues’ criticism, expressing concern about the proposed policy’s impact on freedom of association:  

“If I had a child at Harvard, I would strongly discourage my child from being a member of a final club,” Summers said. “That said, I think the freedom of association is a profoundly important value and I think the idea that we would condition fellowship letters or the opportunity to be elected by one’s peers as captain of a football team on agreement with certain values is inconsistent with the central values of an academic institution.”

Given the clear threat to student associational rights presented by Harvard’s plan, FIRE is encouraged by the increasing opposition from the university’s distinguished faculty. We continue to ask students, faculty, and alumni to take action against the proposed sanctions by writing President Faust via our website.

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