Commentary: Harvard’s new rule replaces free thinkers with goose steppers


RALEIGH, N.C. — Harvard, like many elite universities, has become increasingly intolerant. It has sought, through a series of administrative decisions, to substitute its own values for the individual moral consciences of its students and to punish those who stray from the university’s narrow dogma.

Most recently, Harvard moved to ban exclusive social clubs, including fraternities and sororities, by 2022.

Despite Harvard’s promises that student rights are of primary importance on campus, the proposal would deprive students of their fundamental right to freedom of association, enshrined in the First Amendment.

Ultimately, Harvard’s decision to punish students who are members of such organizations, which choose members based on gender, comes down to a difference of opinion about values.

President Drew Faust explained in a 2016 letter that Harvard’s commitment to having “a truly inclusive community” was one of the university’s “deepest values.”

Faust, who recently announced she will step down as Harvard’s president July 1, also asserted that gender is an “arbitrary” distinction between individuals.

Harvard’s position, then, is to punish students who disagree, in practice, with the university’s progressive position on gender difference. This is the definition of intolerance.

But Harvard’s position on exclusive social clubs is just one example. Harvard has multiple illiberal policies in place that punish students and faculty for unpopular speech and imperil their individual freedom.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has given Harvard a “Red Light” rating for their policies, which means that the institution has at least one policy that “clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.” But in fact, it has several.

One such regulation requires student organizations to obtain approval from Harvard’s Office of Student Life before distributing printed materials anywhere on campus.

This means that student groups that want to advertise events, find new members or hand out literature must have the content of their messages approved before taking any action.

At a public university, such a policy would be unconstitutional censorship. At Harvard, it is yet another example of administrative intolerance.

Harvard’s intolerance was also on display last year when the school used its power to police private communication between individuals. Before the beginning of the fall semester, the university rescinded admission to 10 incoming freshmen students because of the students’ involvement in a private group chat where they created and exchanged “obscene” memes.

Also in 2016, the university chose to punish the entire men’s cross-country team for “crude” comments made by past team members.

Tolerance of opinions one does not agree with is a linchpin of civil society and liberal education. A university cannot pursue truth, invite inquiry, or encourage the personal and moral development of students in an environment of intolerance.

Harvard’s actions and policies have shown that the university values conformity over debate and narrow dogma over open inquiry. Harvard’s intolerance has caused it to abandon the most fundamental mission of education: the pursuit of truth.

— Jenna Robinson is president of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, Raleigh, N.C., and serves on the North Carolina Advisory Committee for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Editor’s note: The writer is addressing the question, “Does Harvard’s ban on fraternities and sororities violate student rights?”

February 18, 2018