Why Harvard Lets Discriminatory Groups On Campus

More
harvard flcikr user gosh@.png

According to the Wall Street Journal, David Petraeus will be at Harvard today to address a commissioning ceremony for the seven graduates of the university who are joining the armed forces. It would be an interesting moment for a reflection on the relationship between privilege and service, but instead former Bush speechwriter William McGurn devotes his entire WSJ column to the weird notion that Harvard should be declining all of its federal funding:

On its Web page, Harvard Law School cites the university's nondiscrimination policy and then goes on to describe how it lives up to that principle:

"The Harvard Law School makes one exception to this policy. Under threat of loss of funding to the University resulting from the Solomon Amendment, the Law School has suspended the application of its nondiscrimination policy to military recruiters."

You don't have to be a lawyer to get the point: Even though we are one of the world's wealthiest universities, we'd rather make an exception to our principles than give up the money. So we'll do what the Solomon Amendment requires and hold our noses.

Oh please. As I'm sure McGurn knows perfectly well, the reason Harvard Law School adopted this policy is because Congress changed the rules of the Solomon Amendment in 2001 so that if Harvard Law School (or any school within a larger university) barred military recruiters over Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the entire university would lose its federal funding. Standing on principle is all well and good, but it's quite a bit different from imposing your principles on others -- which is what the rule change asked the law school to do. You don't have to be a columnist for the Wall Street Journal to get this point.

A somewhat broader and more obvious point is that Institutions of higher education can contain a multitude of principles. One is "provide the best possible education to your students." Another easy one (for Harvard at least) is "don't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation."

But institutional principles can and do conflict. If Harvard Medical School gives up tens of millions of dollars in federal research grants (at stake: "provide the best education possible") so that Harvard Law School can prohibit an organization from recruiting on campus (at stake: "don't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation") does "principle" really win? It seems to me that the careful and pragmatic management of tradeoffs is just how every reasonably nuanced organization gets things done.

Image from Flickr user Gosh@

Jump to comments
Presented by

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Technicolor Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier

Video

What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets

Video

Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.

Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

Just In