Students pass in front of Harvard's Widener Library
Students pass in front of Harvard's Widener Library. (Image: William B. Plowman/Getty Images)
Harvard University committee votes to restrict student constitutional freedoms

A Harvard University faculty review committee has voted to restrict student’s constitutional right to assembly and freedom of association. 

No more “freedom of association” at Harvard University

On July 12, a Harvard faculty review committee voted to punish any students who belong to any “private” or “exclusionary” group. Effectively, any group, club, or association, who restricts or limits its membership, would be banned under the policy.

This policy will effectively ban membership in religious and faith-based clubs, cultural and ethic support groups, male or female sports and athletic clubs, and even student political organizations. If the University adopts the committee’s recommendation, students who belong to any such organizations may now be disciplined up to expulsion. 25% of Harvard students reportedly belong to such groups.

By design, many of the clubs and organizations being targeted under this policy are private institutions, located off campus on privately held land. Unlike fraternity chapters of the “Greek” system, which may be affiliated with their university, these institutions have no official connection with Harvard.

The Harvard Club of New York City, for example, is a private club that promotes fellowship and “reflects the spirit of Harvard University”. Ironically, as a membership-based “exclusionary” club, students who join The Harvard Club of New York City may now be expelled from Harvard.

Policy extends to off-campus clubs and private associations

The committee’s policy will extend to off-campus clubs and organizations, and the broad scope of the policy allows the university wide latitude in the exercise of these restrictions. For example, under this policy, a Jewish student who attends an off-campus synagogue workshop that is closed to non-jewish individuals, may now be suspended for associating with a “private” or “exclusionary” group. Similarly, a female student who joins an all-girl Jane Austin book club, may be suspended under the same policy.

No more “freedom of the press” for the Harvard Crimson newspaper

Perhaps even more disturbing, the review committee simultaneously issued a recommendation that the school student council and the school newspaper be forced to comply with this policy.  If the newspaper publishes an announcement regarding a student religious club fundraiser, for example, its editors may now be punished. Similarly, if the student council gives permission for a Harvard Young Republicans booth at a campus assembly, for example, those council members may be expelled.

Harvard Dean Rakesh Khurana behind the attacks on student freedoms at Harvard

Harvard Dean Rakesh Khurana
Harvard Dean Rakesh Khurana (Image: Harvard University website)

The driving force behind these policies is reportedly Harvard Dean Rakesh Khurana, a native of India, who has been under fire for more than a year for his alleged efforts to eliminate all of the school’s all-male and all-female clubs. Khurana reportedly ignored the objections of administrators opposed to the restrictions, and has allegedly attempted to control student elections and the school newspaper in order to advance his agenda. After administrators pushed back against his efforts to restrict student associations, Khurana agreed to create a “review committee”, which he allegedly then manipulated into adopting his policy.

Student leaders will be required to sign written statements disclaiming their constitutional rights

Under the policy, students who wish to participate in student government will be required to sign a written statement essentially disclaiming their rights under the U.S. constitution to freely associate with clubs or organizations of their own choosing. Students must instead affirm they do not currently belong to a disallowed organization, did not belong to one in the past year, and will not belong to one in the year after their tenure in a leadership position or athletic captaincy ends.

Students “falsely affirming compliance ” will find themselves subject to discipline, including the removal of “athletic captaincies, scholarships, and leadership of student groups”. Students who refuse to terminate their association with a group or club disallowed under the committee’s policy may be suspended or expelled.

Policy “passed” with only 26% approval vote

No student was present at the committee meeting when the final vote occurred and the review committee initially reported that only a “small minority” disagreed with its decision. However, the Harvard Crimson later uncovered the fact that only 7 of the 27 committee members actually voted in favor of the policy, or 26%.

Khurana is reportedly securing legal council in anticipation of a barrage of lawsuits against his actions.

What is “Freedom of Association”?

“Freedom of association” is considered to be a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects an individual’s right to freely exercise one’s religion, speak freely, publish freely, peaceably assemble, and petition the government. Freedom to engage in association for the advancement of one’s beliefs and ideas is also part of the “liberty” guaranteed by the “Due Process Clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Harvard review committee’s policy directly infringes on these fundamental rights.

Freedom of Association has been affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court

Freedom of Association has been affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court on numerous occasions. In the Supreme Court case of N.A.A.C.P. v. Alabama (1958), a unanimous Court ruled that the NAACP did not have to reveal to the Alabama attorney general the names and addresses of NAACP members in the state because it would violate the NAACP members’ freedom of association. Writing for the Court, Justice John Marshall Harlan II said in the decision that:

“immunity from state scrutiny of membership lists … is here so related to the right of members to pursue their lawful private interests privately and to associate freely with others in so doing as to come within the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

2ANews is a media and news service, reporting on all issues impacting those freedoms enumerated within the United States constitution or its laws.

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