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Sunday Duel: Campus life — Administrative intolerance

| Saturday, April 14, 2018, 9:00 p.m.
People walk near Memorial Church on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.  (AP Photo | Steven Senne)
People walk near Memorial Church on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo | Steven Senne)


Harvard, like many elite universities, has become increasingly intolerant. It has sought 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 all exclusive social clubs, including fraternities and sororities, by 2022. 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 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.

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 its 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 prior to distributing printed materials anywhere on campus. 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Harvard's intolerance was also on display last year when the university rescinded admission to 10 incoming freshman students because of their involvement in a private group chat where they created and exchanged “obscene” memes.

In 2016, the university placed the men's cross-country team on athletic probation for sometimes-explicit comments, made years ago in privately circulated documents, about the women's team. Harvard also punished the men's soccer team because of lewd — but private — “scouting reports” in which players rated the appearance of female soccer recruits; Harvard canceled the team's games for the year and initiated a Title IX investigation.

The students in all three cases made poor choices. But Harvard's decision to punish them for insensitive private jokes is another attempt to force others to conform with the university's own subjective values.

Tolerance of opinions one does not agree with is a linchpin of civil society and liberal education. 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 A. 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.

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