Back in 2016, Harvard essentially banned membership in single-sex clubs for students. They enforced this policy by barring non-compliant students from leadership positions in sports and other campus activities, and by restricting access to certain scholarships.

The school has now ended the policy.

Of all the wrong-headed policies on college campuses, this one was especially baffling. It limited choices for students and gave them no credit for being capable of making their own decisions.

Like so many situations in higher education, this came down to legal matters.

The FIRE blog reports:

Bye-bye blacklist: Harvard ends attack on single-sex groups

Four years ago, Harvard University announced a stunning attack on freedom of association when it blacklisted members of independent, single-sex, off-campus organizations from certain scholarships and campus leadership opportunities. Now, after legal setbacks and years of intense public criticism, the blacklist is no more.

Yesterday, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow announced to the Harvard community that the university will abandon the policy due to the “prevailing interpretation of federal law.” Last year, a federal judge ruled that a lawsuit brought against Harvard by fraternities and sororities could proceed with claims that the blacklist policy discriminated based on sex. Bacow said Harvard would also be withdrawing the policy in light of the “significant implications” from the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this month in Bostock v. Clayton County.

“Harvard’s effort to crush one of America’s most fundamental freedoms for its students failed in the court of public opinion and was failing in the court of law,” said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley. “Harvard squandered time, resources, and most of all its credibility defending its indefensible blacklist policy. While this ‘Crimson Scare’ is finally over, lasting damage has been done to many cherished men’s and women’s groups that either shut down or were muscled into changing their policies against their wishes.”

Harvard’s blacklist policy, ostensibly enacted to foster “inclusion” and “address deeply rooted gender issues,” in reality gutted students’ right to free association. Students found to have joined a single-sex social organization were forbidden from receiving Harvard Fellowships as well as Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, and banned from attaining leadership positions in recognized campus organizations or on athletic teams.

The Harvard Crimson provides further details:

Harvard has dropped its social group sanctions as a result of a recent Supreme Court decision on sex discrimination, University President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote in an email Monday afternoon.

In 2016, the College announced a set of sanctions against members of final clubs and single-gender Greek organizations, precluding students in those groups from receiving fellowships, athletics captaincies, and leadership positions in extracurricular groups. First applied to the Class of 2021, the sanctions received intense scrutiny and spawned a pair of lawsuits in state court and federal court…

Bacow wrote in his email that, after the Court announced its decision, the Harvard Corporation recognized that its reasoning might have significant implications for the social group policy based on United States District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton’s legal reasoning in his decision to deny Harvard’s motion to dismiss the suit in August 2019.

“In essence, [Gorton] accepted the plaintiffs’ legal theory that the policy, although adopted to counteract discrimination based on sex, is itself an instance of discrimination based on sex,” Bacow wrote. “It now seems clear that Judge Gorton would ultimately grant judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor in the pending lawsuit and that Harvard would be legally barred from further enforcing the policy.”

College students should have freedom of association, but perhaps more importantly, they should be treated like adults.


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