Saturday, July 22, 2017

I don't care about Harvard

Harvard is thinking about banning fraternities, sororities, and "final clubs". I really don't care. As a communist, I think the whole Ivy League system is terrible, but it's terrible not because it violates universal norms of "free speech" but because it reproduces capitalism (duh).

Background: Report of the Committee on the Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations (USGSO), July 5, 2017: After reviewing a lot of data and talking with many interested parties, the committee found that discriminatory social organizations were discriminatory, this discrimination was contrary to the goals of the university, and thus recommended that the university forbid membership in these organizations. They note that at least two other colleges, Williams College and Bowdoin College, have forbidden membership in fraternities or sororities.

In Do Unto Other Harvard Students (July 13, 2017), Conor Friedersdorf argues that the policy is hypocritical, since Harvard is itself a discriminatory institution. I think this argument is lazy. In Harvard’s Steven Pinker on proposal to ban social clubs: ‘This is a terrible recommendation’ (July 13, 2017), Alex Morey quotes Steven Pinker's objections: The university is there to provide an education, not micromanage the students' social lives, that the committee's recommendations are not an "effective, rationally justified, evidence-based policy tailored to reduce sexual assault." Pinker's final complaint,
This illiberal policy [i.e. a policy Pinker disagrees with - ed.] can only contribute to the impression in the country at large that elite universities are not dispassionate forums for clarifying values, analyzing problems, and proposing evidence-based solutions, but are institutions determined to impose their ideology and values on a diverse population by brute force.
is breathtaking in its inanity. Criticizing any policy based on its "impression" is stupid. If these impressions are correct, then Pinker would argue against them directly, rather than arguing against some supposed impression.

Furthermore, the the whole point of universities are to impose ideology and values; the argument is over which kind of values; just above are Pinker's preferred ideology and values he wishes to impose: "Universities ought to be places where issues are analyzed, distinctions are made, evidence is evaluated, and policies crafted to attain clearly stated goals" [emphasis added]. Had Pinker actually read the report, he would have discovered that the report actually does analyze issues, make distinctions, evaluate evidence and crafts policies to attain clearly stated goals, i.e. decreasing intra-campus exclusionary discrimination.

Finally, the idea that the university is implementing anything by "brute force" is absurd hyperbole.

Yes, Steven Pinker is a doofus. In other news, earth orbits sun.

But who really cares? Pinker teaches at Harvard; he has standing to negotiate the university's policies. I do not, so I don't care at all. As far as I'm concerned, Harvard can be totally internally exclusionary or totally inclusive. If you don't like their policies, don't go to Harvard. I didn't, and I'm not crying in my cornflakes.

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