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Off the Record For a Reason

By Jason Ge and Emily M. Hall

In light of recent comments about the Fellows and Study Groups Program at the Institute of Politics, we are writing to explain how the program operates and its fundamental purpose.

As the student chairs, we believe that the Fellows and Study Groups Program provides Harvard students with unparalleled opportunities to engage with political practitioners in an immersive experience.

Each semester, we bring six individuals to live on campus for a semester as Resident Fellows. They host weekly study groups (which are open to anyone), hold office hours, serve as mentors to their six student liaisons, attend student group events, and immerse themselves in the Harvard community for the three months they are here. We also bring several individuals (like Sean Spicer) to campus for a shorter period of time as Visiting Fellows. These individuals are are scheduled for as many events as possible during their short time here, participating in events ranging from meetings with faculty to dinners and discussions with students.

It is our job to connect Fellows with the broader Harvard campus and ensure that interested students have an opportunity to engage with each of our Fellows. One of the best things about the Fellows and Study Groups Program is that we allow students to interact and learn from Fellows in small settings. This allows for the most candid conversation possible and provides individuals with a chance to engage in direct discussion, something that is not possible in larger settings. In keeping with this goal, we intentionally keep events small to preserve this special opportunity for students. As undergraduates ourselves, we feel so fortunate to be able to have experiences like these and understand how unique the Harvard IOP Fellows and Study Groups Program is.

As a program that values thoughtful discourse, we are glad to see that other students have voiced their opinions and sparked a discussion. However, in order to address the recent criticisms leveled at Sean Spicer’s fellowship, we feel it is important to clarify the details of his visit and Corey Lewandowski’s current one.

A visiting fellowship being entirely off the record is not out of the ordinary. While on the record events are certainly valuable in their own way―and Corey Lewandowski has two on his schedule for Monday, November 6―they are simply not the central purpose of the Fellows and Study Groups Program. A number of Resident and Visiting Fellows participate in events that are on the record, most commonly Forums. When building a Fellow’s schedule, we try to use the Fellow’s time in a way that is most valuable for the broader Harvard community, so we therefore prioritize event structures that are unique to our program. While large speaking engagements have value, the Fellows and Study Groups program is not meant to serve as a stop on a speaking tour.

With many of our Fellows, interest in attending events far exceeds the number of spots available. Sean Spicer was one of these Fellows. As such, we had to conduct lotteries for his public events. Open spots were offered to the broader Harvard community using the IOP Announce mailing list. This email list is the same tool that is used to publicize all public IOP events (and was used on October 31 to announce the dates of Corey Lewandowski’s visit). In these lotteries, spots are given to a wide array of students at Harvard, but preference is given to active IOP members in recognition of the commitment they have demonstrated.

We hope this helps to clarify how we make the decisions we do regarding our program. We hope to see you at the multiple open events held at the IOP every week, and we are proud to have brought the following class of Fellows to Harvard this semester:

Resident Fellows: Yohannes Abraham, Dan Balz, Cong. Jason Chaffetz, Karen Finney, Sec. Sally Jewell, and Mark Strand

Visiting Fellows: Guy Benson, Gov. Steven Beshear, Cornell Brooks, Mika Brzezinski, Mary Katharine Ham, Mayor Sylvester James (upcoming), Corey Lewandowski (here this week), Robby Mook, Joe Scarborough, Sean Spicer, and Joe Slade White

All of these individuals have hosted or will host a broad variety of events that provide Harvard students with the unique opportunity for direct discussion with themselves and other prominent political figures. This engagement is the heart of the Fellows and Study Groups Program.

Jason Ge ’18 is an Applied Math concentrator in Leverett House. Emily M. Hall ’18 is a Government concentrator in Adams House. They are the co-chairs of the Fellows and Study Groups Program at the Institute of Politics.

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