Posted on March 31st, 2008 in Uncategorized | 23 Comments »
In the Washington Post, Ken Goldstein argues that allowing segregation in order to accomodate religious sensibilities is a slippery slope.
First it’s only one gym, then a swimming pool. Next might be the demand that women at Harvard wear a little more clothing — you know, just a reasonable amount more.
Finally these Muslim women, denied the opportunity to pursue higher education in Muslim-dominated societies, will demand the separation of men from women in classes.
Perhaps Harvard will accommodate them — reasonably, of course — by establishing a women’s college to insulate these acutely sensitive women from the pernicious influence of men.
They could call it Radcliffe College.
Taha Abdul-Basser, the Muslim chaplain at Harvard, said said both episodes were indicative of the growing number of Muslims in the US.
“There are some people who are not just comfortable that Muslims, by virtue of the change of demographics, are going to become more and more visible.”
This argument may be generally true, but in the context of the Harvard situation, it is hilariously wrong. It is not, in fact, the non-Muslim Harvardians who are uncomfortable with Muslim students. It’s the Muslim students who are uncomfortable with American cultural norms and values (i.e., segregation bad, integration good).
This debate is really about an issue that Harry Lewis has been trying to inject into the university crucible for years now: In an increasingly global university, what values can and should Harvard teach its students? Or does it just espouse “tolerance,” even when some values conflict with fundamental American beliefs?
In, for example, America and the Curricular Review, circa 2002, Lewis wrote:
We have just come through a year in which America has been reminded of her dependence on the rest of the world, and of the fact that her fundamental values of freedom and equality are not accepted universally. We rely on these freedoms more in this old University than anywhere, especially the freedom to speak and to have a rational argument, an argument in which distinctions are respected and broad labels are avoided. I wonder, when we finish redesigning our general education program for the next generation of students, whether America will have any special place in it, and if indeed if it will have a motivating force behind it at all. It seems to me that in this free society, we should want to teach young minds how to learn, but also to inspire their souls to grasp and to sustain the best humane ideals that our shared heritage has given us.
In the context of the debate over gym segregation, those words seem prescient.