Harvard takes on the global war against women

Fight fiercely, Harvard! (PS, this is Tom Lehrer, if I remember correctly.)

And hey, NYT: your headline belies your article. It’s not simply “exclusive student clubs” or “members of single-gender clubs,” it’s all-male clubs that bar women. No mention of all-women clubs that bar men.

Source: Harvard Restrictions Could Reshape Exclusive Student Clubs – The New York Times

Members of single-gender clubs will be barred from campus leadership positions, and from receiving official recommendations for postgraduate fellowships.

UPDATE 5/10/16: Ooh, “libertarians” (the Volokh Folk) are pissed at the above. I should point out that Harvard’s president is a woman and, if you look at the list of prospective cited Harvard board members who are “appalled” by this decision, you’ll see that none of them is a woman. So much for “libertarianism.” Apparently it’s a male movement (although I can’t determine, i.e., Google ain’t helping me here, whether Lee Cheng is a woman, or not).

[Sasha Volokh] Angry at Harvard’s attack on freedom of association? Vote! Quickly!

Posted: 09 May 2016 12:29 PM PDT

You may have heard about Harvard’s new policy, under which people who join single-gender associations (like fraternities or Harvard’s secretive “finals clubs”, none of which are formally recognized by Harvard) won’t be allowed to be athletic team captains or leaders of student groups and won’t be able to get recommendations for certain scholarships. (Here’s a Harvard Crimson article about it, here’s a post about it from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, here’s a Reason article about it, and here’s a Morning Mix post questioning whether the ban should apply to all-women groups.)

Of course Harvard is a private organization, so they can do whatever they want, and as a legal matter, I agree that they should be able to do whatever they want. [My emphasis: Volokh, the maestro of this blog, is a lawyer and how nice of him to condescend grudgingly to the law here, even while he’s attempting to tromp around it.] (This rule seems to apply only to future students, but even if it applied to current students, it’s not clear that there would necessarily be anything legally fishy.)

But for those who take an interest in what Harvard does as part of the enterprise of a liberal university, there’s a lot that’s troubling about the idea of penalizing people for their off-campus memberships by denying them a privilege (student organization leadership) that’s available to everyone else, without any individualized showing that membership in the particular organization is somehow inconsistent with leadership in the club. Fortunately, if you’re a Harvard alumnus, you can do something about it: vote for a slate of candidates for Harvard’s Board of Overseers. The slate consists of Ralph Nader, Ron Unz, Stuart Taylor, Lee Cheng, and Stephen Hsu. Here’s a Harvard Crimson article about their candidacy, here’s a New York Times article, and here’s a debate about their platform.

FURTHER UPDATE: Lee Cheng–whom I finally found on Google, after I typed his last name correctly–is indeed a He.

UPDATE 5/14/16: Jerry Coyne, at WEIT, does not agree with my attitude toward Harvard’s innovative policy. I’m linking Jerry’s post today, which contains a letter written to Harvard’s president by an academic association decrying her move.

I feel neither abashed nor intimidated, however. It seems to me that nobody is restricting Harvard students from associating freely with whomever they choose, in this case only guys. Harvard is simply warning such men that their associations will figure into recommendations for advanced post-grad work, including prestigious scholarships.

As they should:

Throughout our lives our personal and professional connections do and should affect how others view us. When we apply for college, the high school clubs we belong to and the extra-curricular work we do–volunteer or otherwise–figure into our college applications, as a way of saying, “This is me. See how terrific I am?”

I’m equally sure that these associations are mentioned by applicants to post-grad programs–if, of course, the associations will credibly enhance a student’s resumé. I’d guess that a Harvard guy who joined the local KKK isn’t going to be citing his membership on an application for a Rhodes Scholarship.

And I’m sure that all colleges consider such extra-curricular associations when recommending, or not recommending, a student for post-grad work.

All that Harvard is attempting to do here is issue a warning: if you openly or surreptitiously belong to the KKK, we must consider that, as well as your other memberships, in our recommendations.

That’s wrong?

And if you openly or surreptitiously belong to a club that elects to bar women from membership, we assert our freedom to consider that exclusivity as well, when we review your application for post-grad work. Because it offers a CAT scan of your character and psyche that goes, as CATs will, deeper than the x-ray that is your application.

If Harvard backs down, I’ll be disappointed. But even if this suggested policy is not openly declared, don’t you think this brouhaha will cause guys to hesitate before joining an all-male club? Because Harvard will still be able to use these associations in reviewing applications, and could and should mention these associations in recommendations. As I’ll bet they do now (see above, re KKK) and should be doing.

And hey, it isn’t as of members of all-male clubs or the KKK have no other options for the rest of their lives. They could make a fortune in business. They could run for POTUS.

ANOTHER UPDATE 5/14/16! Jerry Coyne has pointed out to me that the NYT article is clear that the proposed Harvard plan would include all gender-specific clubs–women as well as men.

I amend what I said: I still like the policy for all the above reasons and it definitely should be applied equally, to all-female as well as all-male clubs.

And I remembered that I chose a college not only for academic and cultural reasons but also because it did not have fraternities and sororities. I consider them a lousy way of introducing college kids to the real, diverse world.


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