The Problem With Helicopter Colleges

Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic:

ScreenHunter_2758 Jul. 20 19.46As a coda to yesterday’s article on Harvard University, where a committee is trying to ban undergraduates from joining social clubs, readers may be interested in a dissent offered by Steven Pinker, the influential psychology professor, who declared that the recommendation of his colleagues is “at odds with the ideals of a university.”

If you’re catching up, the Harvard committee argued that “allowing our students pick their own social spaces and friends,” while not without value, is at odds with principles of “inclusiveness and equality,” and should be sacrificed in the name of progress.

Pinker’s response:

This is a terrible recommendation, which is at odds with the ideals of a university.

1. A university is an institution with circumscribed responsibilities which engages in a contract with its students. Its main responsibility is to provide them with an education. It is not an arbiter over their lives, 24/7. What they do on their own time is none of the university’s business.

2. One of the essential values in higher education is that people can differ in their values, and that these differences can be constructively discussed. Harvard has a right to value mixed-sex venues everywhere, all the time, with no exceptions. If some of its students find value in private, single-sex associations, some of the time, a university is free to argue against, discourage, or even ridicule those choices. But it is not a part of the mandate of a university to impose these values on its students over their objections.

More here.