Kennedy belongs to exclusive university club of his own

Reprint of Charles Hurt’s January 12th Article in THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy belongs to a social club for Harvard students and alumni that was evicted from campus nearly 20 years ago after refusing to allow female members. According to the online membership directory of the Owl Club, the Massachusetts Democrat updated his personal information — including the address of his home that is in his wife’s name — on Sept. 7.

The club has long been reviled on campus as “sexist” and “elitist” and, in 1984, was booted from the university for violating federal anti-discrimination laws, authored by Mr. Kennedy.

Mr. Kennedy has spent much of this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings interrogating Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. for his ties to the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a group that is critical of admissions quotas but was formed in the early 1970s in opposition to the admission of women.

Judge Alito’s “affiliation with an organization that fought the admission of women into Princeton calls into question his appreciation for the need for full equality in this country,” Mr. Kennedy said Wednesday. Mr. Kennedy’s spokeswoman, Laura Capps, said there is “absolutely no comparison” between the Owl Club, a social group, and an organized effort to “exclude women from getting an education” at Princeton.

“It’s a social club. It’s like a fraternity,” she said. “He has been fighting to break down barriers for decades.”

Ms. Capps said she doesn’t know how many minorities are members of the Owl.

But the university views organizations such as the Owl — called “final clubs” — quite differently from fraternities and sororities, which are considered a form of housing and therefore not coeducational.

In 1984, “Harvard disassociated itself from the nine all-male clubs in accordance with Title IX of the 1972 Education Act, which prohibits federally funded institutions from discriminating on the basis of sex,” according to a 1986 article in the Harvard Crimson, a student newspaper.

Mr. Kennedy is widely regarded as the father of that education bill, which has been used for decades to enforce precise equality on college campuses. Student opposition to the Owl Club — even after it had been expelled from campus — was so strong that involvement in it was fodder for scandal. After one student government officer’s association with the Owl was exposed in 1986, student Jennifer L. Mnookin took the young man to task in a column published in the Crimson.

His “membership in a final club is an insult to women undergraduates and to the 90 percent of the student body that the clubs deem unworthy of membership,” she wrote. “Final clubs perpetrate an attitude that encourages members to treat the rest of the world as second class citizens — to make them enter the clubs through side doors, to bar them from certain rooms, to devalue and look down upon them.”

Around the same time, another student, James E. Canning, wrote a column in which he explained why he declined to follow the footsteps of his father and grandfather by joining the Owl.

“I listened to two members brag about their liaisons with various women,” he wrote in disgust. “Even more unpleasant are the signs of elitism that pervade the clubs.”

Ms. Capps said two clubs catering exclusively to women have opened in recent years.