Just days after the announcement that former Mexican President Felipe Calderón will assume a fellowship position at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard faculty defended the Kennedy School alumnus against criticism of his new appointment.
A petition posted on Change.org asks Harvard to deny Calderón employment at the Kennedy School, claiming that Calderón is responsible for the deaths of innocent people as a result of his war on drug cartels. As of press time on Monday, the petition had garnered over 500 signatures.
Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood ’75 wrote in an email that although he recognizes that not everyone agrees with Calderón’s policies, Kennedy School administrators believe the fellowship offers students the opportunity to “engage with world leaders and to ask difficult questions on important public policy issues.”
But former U.S. Border Patrol agent John Randolph, who started the petition, said he was “outraged” by Harvard’s decision to bring Calderón to Cambridge.
“I don’t understand why we would award someone like Calderón to come here to have a lucrative teaching job at a place like Harvard when there’s so much controversy and so much hatred in his country about the things that happened while he was president,” Randolph said. “I don’t think it’s right.”
Erich Moncada, a Mexican radio host and producer who signed the petition, said he understands that Calderón needed to engage in a drug war to fight criminals and uphold the law. However, Moncada questioned Calderón’s execution of the war, alleging that his military disregarded human rights. In November 2011, the nonprofit Human Rights Watch released a report saying they had found evidence that Mexican security forces were responsible for 170 torture cases, 39 disappearances, and 24 unsanctioned killings since Calderón took office in 2006.
Morgan Smith ’60, a freelance writer and photographer, said he has seen firsthand what he described as disastrous Mexican military tactics during his travels in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
Although Smith said he thinks that Calderón’s fellowship at Harvard will bring much-needed attention to the Latin-American nation, he warned that Calderón’s time at Harvard might be “messy” if Calderón is too focused on trying to protect his record and unwilling to engage in honest conversation about the problems facing Mexico.
Harvard professors were Skeptical about the campaign to block Calderón from working at Harvard.
Government professor Steven R. Levitsky said that although Calderón’s administration may have contributed to violence in Mexico in its attempt to fight the drug war, the vast majority of homicides in the country are a result of violence between drug trafficking organizations.
“There are lots of criticisms you can make of the Calderón government, but nothing remotely that would warrant not bringing him to Harvard,” Levitsky said.
Jorge I. Dominguez, government professor and vice provost for international affairs, went a step further, defending Calderón’s legacy as one of improved civil liberties, reduced poverty rates, and faster economic development.
“I am certain...that this is a good person, a good president, and that the Kennedy School did the right thing to appoint him as Fellow,” Dominguez wrote in an email.
Calderón, who left presidential office on Saturday, is slated to begin his new position at the Kennedy School in late January.
There, he will give special lectures, collaborate with researchers, and write case studies based on the challenges he faced in office.
—Steven R. Watros contributed to the reporting of this article.