As former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón arrives in Cambridge this week to begin a fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School, human rights activists and the School’s officials continue to engage in a back-and-forth over his appointment.
Protesters argue that Calderón’s initiation of the drug wars in Mexico, which have resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, should disqualify him from the fellowship.
A petition circulated on change.org by former U.S. border control officer John Randolph, protesting Calderón’s fellowship has accumulated over 35,000 signatures since the appointment was announced in late November.
The petition’s authors delivered the petition to Kennedy School associate dean for communications and public affairs Melodie L. Jackson to discuss their grievances, according to a Kennedy School press release.
Randolph wrote in an email to The Crimson that he has told the petition’s supporters that he would present the appeal to Harvard again if it receives its goal of 100,000 signatures.
Debate has also swelled in the Mexican intellectual community. El Colegio de México Professor Sergio Aguayo and poet Javier Sicilia appealed to Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood ’75, requesting a written explanation for Calderón’s appointment.
“The unique opportunity to engage in direct discussion with a former head of state is one that many of our students value greatly, even if they may disagree with some of that leader’s policy positions,” Ellwood responded publicly.
Thus far, Kennedy School statements have not addressed the drug wars specifically, but have defended the decision to name Calderón the inaugural Angelopoulos Fellow.
“I am confident that Mr. Calderón’s one-year fellowship will create numerous opportunities for rigorous discussion and debate on a range of important issues between our students and Mexico’s former president,” Ellwood said in a statement.
Government professor Steven R. Levitsky said that although he does not defend Calderón’s drug wars, “I just don’t think he’s a criminal.”
“We should want to bring in people who generate criticism and debate. We should want to bring in people we disagree with—even vehemently so. That’s how we learn,” Levitsky said.
Institutionally, Harvard has remained behind Calderón and there has been little public objection among students.
One distinguished Harvard graduate has expressed disapproval, however.
“I believe that the presence of Calderón at Harvard contradicts the values of representative democracy, critical thinking and intellectual and personal honesty the University promotes,” Mexican diplomat Hector Vasconcelos ’68 told Mexican news site Sin Embargo. Vasconcelos warned that he would return his Harvard degree should the Kennedy School uphold Calderón’s fellowship.
—Staff writer Steven R. Watros can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.