In a highly public affair, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, within the span of two days, announced and withdrew former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, whistleblower, and transgender activist Chelsea E. Manning’s visiting fellowship at the Institute of Politics. The Kennedy School appeared to cave to political pressure: Shortly before her fellowship was revoked, Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo no-showed at an IOP event and former CIA deputy director Michael J. Morell resigned as an IOP fellow.
This decision—coming only a week after Harvard publicly withdrew the acceptance of Michelle Jones, a woman convicted of murdering her four year old son, to a history Ph.D. program—has demonstrated that Harvard is all too comfortable serving the interests of those in power, prioritizing questions of image over those of substance.
When the likes of Sean Spicer, Corey R. Lewandowski, and Jason Chaffetz are granted fellowships without a word or debate on whether their prior actions merit Kennedy School honorifics, it is clear there are different standards for those with access to government power.
In a statement announcing the withdrawal, Douglas W. Elmendorf, Dean of Harvard Kennedy School, wrote, “We should weigh, for each potential visitor, what members of the Kennedy School community could learn from that person’s visit against the extent to which that person’s conduct fulfills the values of public service to which we aspire.”
By choosing to keep disgraced political figures who have participated in or abetted a deeply destructive administration—whether assaulting reporters and protestors, lying from the White House podium, or peddling Benghazi conspiracies—Elmendorf has put Harvard’s stamp of approval on their actions. It is now their conduct which fulfills the values to which the Kennedy School supposedly aspires. Indeed, unlike Lewandowski, who assaulted a reporter and protestor, Manning served time and continues to acknowledge her past deeds.
We understand that Harvard, as both an academic institution and a brand dependent on external sources for endowments and high profile speakers, has a distinct interest in maintaining its political capital. Yet in the face of ongoing national discourse on free speech, from college campuses to football fields to streets across the nation, Harvard chose to silence a voice, determining that Chelsea Manning was unworthy in the face of pressure from CIA officials.
Beyond simply the public relations disaster of announcing and then reneging on an invitation, the Kennedy School helped demonstrate that public opinion and optics outweigh choosing fellows based on a commitment to the ideals of open intellectual inquiry and diverse, critical academic discourse.
Moreover, the Kennedy School’s decision was wrong if only because Manning has a valuable point of view. Her release of tens of thousands of military and diplomatic documents helped spark renewed domestic and international discourse about American foreign policy.
Harvard’s nearly four centuries of history, size, and global influence should make it more, not less, resistant to popular pressure. The notion that this institution’s reputation would suddenly change or its political clout suddenly be jeopardized by inviting a controversial fellow for a semester is laughable. It is a poor excuse, and one that demonstrates intellectual cowardice in the face of external pressure.
Past leakers have too been labelled traitors, unworthy of public honor. Daniel Ellsberg ’52, a former Crimson editor, released classified Department of Defense documents on the Vietnam War to the New York Times. His act of public disclosure, however, gave the nation transparency about a war that claimed the lives of its young each year. History will reveal whether Manning’s disclosures ultimately are seen in the same light. In the meantime, however, we condemn the Kennedy School’s decision to shut down this debate before it has even started.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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