In contrast, the lone named dissenter on the faculty panel offered a conservative perspective. “The sanctions policies have involved a conflict between competing goods: On the one hand, respect for student autonomy and freedom of association; on the other hand, nondiscrimination and inclusivity,” he wrote. The report “strongly favors the latter over the former goods,” he continued. “I continue to favor a balance more on the side of student autonomy because I am unconvinced that the policy, when implemented, will solve the latter problems.” What’s more, he added, the faculty panel’s assessments of Harvard’s campus climate were not robust:
We have somewhat better information on student opinions from the 2016 referendum on the sanctions policy. Of the 3,042 students who voted, 1,820 voted in favor of repeal of the sanctions, 923 voted against repeal, and 299 abstained (my data come from the report in the Harvard Crimson).
The majority of undergraduates did not vote in the referendum but of those who voted 60% were in favor of repeal and 30% voted against repeal. There is a disconnect between these numbers on student opinion and the general tone of this committee’s report which emphasizes deep unhappiness among students with the social environment created by the clubs (I will use club generically for final clubs, fraternities, sororities, and like organizations). The various committees on USGSO policy, including this one, have never sought quantitative unbiased data on student opinions but have relied on selected comments of students opposed to the clubs …
There is no doubt that some students, faculty, and deans find the clubs deeply offensive but well-informed social policy requires knowledge of the full-range of student opinions. Harvard College can do better in reasoning with data.
Were I at Harvard, I imagine I would dislike the Finals Clubs with the same stubborn vehemence that I disliked even the frats and sororities that gave me free alcohol when I visited friends at USC and UCLA and UC Berkeley during my undergraduate years. But I don’t know what any social organizations are like at Harvard, which possesses a right to ban them in a way that a public institution wouldn’t, even if doing so is illiberal, as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education argues.
I, too, tend to prefer liberal approaches; at the same time, I value diversity and experimentation among private colleges, especially when they don’t undermine the pursuit of truth. For all those reasons, I’ll refrain from opining on the best way forward. But I do want to return to the irony lurking beneath this controversy. For is there any American institution that trades on unapologetic exclusion and perpetuates inegalitarian arrangements that benefit an in-group more than Harvard?
There is a conservative defense of its approach to higher education. But that defense is at stark odds with the values the faculty panel insists are core to Harvard College. If they believe in progressivism, and prize non-discrimination, inclusion, and belonging, they could urge any number of changes in the way their institution operates.