President misleadingly suggests that students support the policy
Harvard University has a $36 billion endowment that is “completely untaxed.” Its admittance rate is 5.2 percent. Tuition, room, board and fees ran just over $63,000 last year, undoubtedly less for students who are receiving subsidies from people who pay taxes, unlike Harvard.
But you know what’s really harming “inclusivity” on campus? The fact that men and women continue to hang out with each other in their own non-Harvard clubs.
The Harvard Corporation, the university’s highest governing body, has formally approved the plan debuted a year and a half ago to retaliate against students who belong to single-sex organizations, “a historic intervention into undergraduate social life,” The Harvard Crimson reports.
The university doesn’t recognize final clubs, fraternities or sororities, but their members will be permanently blocked from serving in campus leadership positions, athletic captaincies or recommendations for postgraduate fellowships such as the Rhodes. (After an outcry from the Crimson itself, Harvard exempted the newspaper’s own leadership.)
The timing of the decision – after faculty rejected a proposal that would overturn the punitive club policy – is tied to President Drew Faust’s pending exit this spring. In a letter signed by Faust and William F. Lee, a senior fellow of the corporation, the two say they wanted to ensure the decision was “not contingent” on the next president.
The corporation rejected an even more extreme proposal offered this spring by the review committee: to officially retaliate against all private social groups. And it approved a five-year review and report to be presented to the faculty.
The Crimson paints a rich picture of how this 19-month decision was reached:
Thirteen Corporation members—prominent lawyers, business magnates, and academics among them—jetted into Cambridge, stepped into sleek black cars, and were chauffeured to Loeb House to vote to maintain Harvard’s penalties. …
“I think the real shift is that the Corporation and the Faculty have agreed to give this authority to the administration, whereas I think historically it would have been the role of the Faculty,” [prominent donor Peter Malkin] said. “But I think the Faculty passed on an opportunity to enforce its authority. And to the extent that the Faculty suffers a diminution of its authority in general, it’s the Faculty’s own doing.”
It took the Harvard Corporation just hours to put a conclusive end to the months-long debate over the College's penalties on members of single-gender social groups. https://t.co/NOzjPP3UpG
— The Harvard Crimson (@thecrimson) December 6, 2017
No mention of the bait-and-switch
The letter from Faust and Lee makes no mention of Harvard’s initial justification for socially engineering student life: the alleged but dubious higher rate of sexual assault associated with final clubs. When the implementation committee said the rationale had been ending “elitism” all along, sexual-assault activists accused Harvard of pulling a bait-and-switch.
It also selectively cites student opinion, in particular the president and vice president of the Undergraduate Council. They recently said, “reporting on the results of a survey of the undergraduates,” that “the negative externalities of Harvard’s divisive social life cannot be ignored.”
When they were campaigning last year, the winning candidates explicitly opposed Harvard’s plan to discriminate against single-sex club members. That recent survey of undergrads by the UC, by the way, found three in five student respondents opposed the sanctions, though its low participation rate of 28 percent was flagged.
The Crimson noted the survey followed “repeated public comments” by the UC leaders – one of them a member of the all-female Bee Club – against the sanctions. In other words: Faust and Lee are using misleading phrasing to suggest this plan has student support.
Vocal critic of sanctions: ‘Women will be the big losers’
The corporation letter pretends as if Harvard isn’t still a playground for and bastion of the privileged and well-connected, irrespective of their race and sex:
The final clubs in particular are a product of another era, a time when Harvard’s student body was all male, culturally homogenous, and overwhelmingly white and affluent. Our student body today is significantly different. …
This requires us to create a community where students have the fair opportunity to engage in curricular and extracurricular activities regardless of their gender, socioeconomic status, or other attributes unrelated to merit. … We cannot ignore the responsibility we bear in relationship to our students’ experience in these settings and their effect on the broader community. These organizations are very much of Harvard: They are effectively on our campus, consist exclusively of Harvard students and graduates, and directly influence the character of undergraduate life. More importantly, in their current incarnation, they stand in the way of our ability to provide a fully challenging and inclusive educational experience to the diverse students currently on our campus.
The single-sex clubs are not “effectively” on campus. The administration hates them precisely because it can’t control them – because they aren’t on campus – and it hasn’t wanted to control them for three decades.
They have influence because students freely choose to apply for membership. The letter also pointlessly claims this policy does not “discipline or punish” members of such clubs. No, it only discriminates against people solely based on their benign private affiliations.
As one professor said in speaking against the sanctions policy, Harvard will treat a member of an all-male club worse than a member of the American Nazi party.
On his blog last week, the sanctions policy’s most vocal critic, former Dean of the College Harry Lewis, mocked the administration’s claim that it’s simply trying to direct more social life back onto campus:
Women will be the big losers if harsh sanctions are imposed on members of single-sex clubs. When the sanctions were announced under cover of exam-period darkness back in May 2016, did the President or the deans even know how many women belong to such organizations? Nothing was said about women’s clubs in the initial announcements. Indeed, by citing sexual assault, those announcements suggested that the moves were meant to help women.
He cited the professor who made the Nazi comparison, Benjamin Friedman, who denounced Harvard for engaging in an “all-too-familiar feature of American business behavior“:
When a firm’s product is losing out in competition, the firm’s response is not to improve its product but to seek to get the regulators to take its competitor’s product off the market. In effect, that’s what we have been doing here.
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