Harvard vs. Augusta

Posted: Sep 09, 2002 12:00 AM
Students streaming back to the hallowed halls of Harvard this fall will find a few new faces: Last week, Harvard Law School lifted a 20-year-old policy banning military recruiters on its campus, enacted to protest the ban on homosexual soldiers.

Why, pray tell? Did the boys in red reverse course because Harvard recognized that in a time of war, hampering military recruitment was foolish and unpatriotic? Nah. Of course not.

Instead, Harvard finally bowed to a 1996 law stripping federal financing from schools that did not permit military recruiters. Faced with losing either its nondiscrimination principles or $328 million in federal funding, Harvard caved. "Most of us reluctantly accept the reality that this university cannot accept the loss of federal funds," Dean Robert Clark said in his statement.

Reaction appears remarkably restrained. Lindsay Harrison, a third-year student at Harvard Law and member of Lambda, a gay and lesbian group, told the media: "I vacillate between frustration with the government and frustration with the university, but the realities being what they are, Dean Clark had no choice but to cave."

No choice? Tell that to William Johnson, who announced the Augusta National Golf Club would actually turn down ad revenue rather than submit to demands from the National Council of Women's Organizations to admit women members before next year's Masters golf tournament. The Masters is one of the most-watched sports events around the world.

"He's firing his sponsors?" said Bob Williams, the president of Burns Sports and Celebrities in Evanston, Ill. "Oh my goodness. I've never heard of anything in sports or entertainment sponsorship that would match this."

Why? Does the Augusta National Golf Club hold firm moral principles against women playing golf? Nah. Women already play the course. And Johnson has been at pains to insist that the club has "no exclusionary policies." Observers expected the club to invite a woman or two to join sometime in the near future anyway.

But Johnson and the boys in green jackets apparently hate the idea of being pushed around. In a statement issued yesterday, Johnson, known as Hootie, said: "Augusta National is N.C.W.O.'s true target. It is therefore unfair to put the Masters media sponsors in the position of having to deal with this pressure," adding, "We are sorry, but not surprised, to see these corporations drawn into this matter but continue to insist that our private club should not be 'managed' by an outside group."

There is something strangely exhilarating in this response, even to someone like me who has no dog in this fight. With all due respect, whether a few rich skirts join the wealthy old boys club at Augusta is not, in my view, a compelling public issue. Coed golf courses are not exactly cutting edge. In July, Hootie said the club would not be "bullied, threatened or intimidated." He also said that women would become members but "not at the point of a bayonet." But one cannot help being mesmerized by the spectacle of men for whom the bottom line is not dollars -- even if it is not exactly clear what the bottom line for these men is.

Meanwhile, we now know what kind of men run Harvard. Dean Robert Clark and Lawrence Summers are men who think gay rights are morally more important than national defense, even in wartime, but that money for Harvard is the most important principle of all.