The Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted this week to include in the student handbook penalties for membership in single-gender social groups, leading freedom of speech and association advocates to slam the university for instituting a "blacklist."
Harvard's nearly two-year debate over the policy ended Tuesday in the decision to ban members of unregistered single-gender clubs from holding campus leadership positions in official student organizations or varsity teams. Participants in Greek life and final clubs will also be shut out from pursuing fellowships that require a college endorsement, such as the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.
The project to punish single-gender organizations—underway since May 2016—has received significant backlash, especially from women's groups, which have protested the plan as an attack on outlets supporting an historically marginalized group.
Administrators rejected a proposal to allow the all-female clubs to maintain their gendered policies for an extra three to five years, instead opting to implement the sanctions across gender lines simultaneously.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education blasted the policy as McCarthyist blacklisting and a "witch hunt."
"We at FIRE anticipate that Harvard's policy will not only ultimately fail, but come to be seen as one of the more shameful interludes in the institution's history," wrote FIRE in a statement, asking "How will Harvard actually find violators, then, and determine if they are now, or have ever been, a member of the Communist Party a men's or women's group?"
The organization speculated Harvard College's Administrative Board will rely on inter-peer snitching to enforce the prohibition.
Freedom of association is officially dead at @Harvard.
We anticipate the school's blacklist policy will ultimately fail and come to be seen as a shameful interlude in the institution's history.
There's just no good way to run a witch hunt.https://t.co/ddJ7yXkJB6
— FIRE (@TheFIREorg) March 8, 2018
FIRE expressed hope that the Higher Education Act, currently up for reauthorization as the PROSPER Act, might stay Harvard sanctions, as the act prohibits federally-funded institutions from discriminating against students for lawful association.