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In Memoriam: Freedom of Association at Harvard University

Higher Education

For several issues now, The Delta has been covering the developments at Harvard University regarding the fate of single-sex fraternities and sororities, and their members. The journey has been puzzling, to say the least, but at last it seems things are coming to an unfortunate conclusion and that means the death of the right for students to freely associate.

To briefly recap, in December of 2017, following a year and a half of debate, Harvard University President Drew G. Faust announced that sanctions would go into effect regarding members of single-sex organizations. These sanctions prohibit members of single-sex organizations such as final clubs, fraternities, and sororities from holding leadership positions in student organizations, serving as varsity captains for athletic teams, or receiving Harvard’s endorsement for highly-coveted fellowships.

The original rationale for this decision was framed as a way of combatting concerns regarding sexual assault and alcohol abuse, however those were quickly walked back by Harvard and the rationale shifted to combating organizations that were deemed to no longer fit with Harvard’s idea and vision for student involvement.

These sanctions took effect for the Class of 2021, which are currently sophomores, and have created an environment that has left many groups struggling with their fate at Harvard. In August of this year the Harvard Chapter of Alpha Phi announced that it was disaffiliating from its national organization to become a co-ed organization called “The Ivy.” This move marked the end of the last sorority at Harvard, as Kappa Kappa Gamma, Delta Gamma, and Kappa Alpha Theta chapters all either closed entirely or went co-ed after disaffiliating with their national organizations.

 Of the men’s fraternities, only three of the original five remain: Delta Kappa Epsilon, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and Sigma Chi.

These developments have not gone on without protest however. When the sanctions were originally announced, protests erupted on campus from women claiming that by punishing their single-sex organizations Harvard was effectively removing a safe space for female students.

The North-American Interfraternity Conference, Panhellenic Conference, and Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors have also spoken out and heavily criticized Harvard’s decision.

But one of the most out-spoken opponents of these sanctions has been a member of of Harvard’s own esteemed faculty and former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis. Lewis is currently a Computer Science professor at Harvard and led two efforts by faculty members to derail the sanctions, both of which were unsuccessful.

However, in September, Lewis submitted a letter to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in which he outlined Harvard’s faulty logic and issued a blistering attack writing, “The first of American values is freedom, and universities have a responsibility to preserve that inheritance.”

The letter was submitted for consideration as part of a hearing by members of the committee and comes complimentary to the PROSPER Act, a proposed update to the Higher Education Act that would prevent colleges and universities from receiving federal funding if they penalized members of single-sex organizations. The PROSPER Act is currently under consideration by the House of Representatives.

The Delta has chosen to reprint Professor Lewis’ letter in its entirety here.

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