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Letter to the Editor: The Marshall Project Responds to Professor Stauffer

By Bill Keller

To the Editor:

I sympathize with Professor John Stauffer, who has made himself a scapegoat in the case of Michelle Jones. But his letter to The Crimson is an attempt to blame the messenger.

A dose of veritas:

Stauffer writes, “In his article, ‘From Prison to Ph.D.,’ published last week in the New York Times, Eli Hager argued that Harvard University did not give Michelle Jones a fair review, owing to her criminal record.”

Actually the writer makes no such argument. He quotes members of the Harvard History Department criticizing the decision, and he quotes others explaining it. The officials who had the final word declined to be interviewed or to answer written questions.

He continues, “In developing his argument, Hager said that ‘top Harvard officials’ rejected Jones’s admission ‘out of concern that her background would cause a backlash among rejected applicants, conservative news outlets, or parents of students.’ This is simply wrong.”

Stauffer doesn’t specify what part of this excerpt he deems wrong, but the fact that Jones’s enthusiastic reception by the History Department was overruled by top officials—and the reasons for that decision—are copiously sourced. Read the article.

He claims that the article “misrepresents what I emphasized in my interview, which was that Jones’s Ph.D. application garnered widespread support, including my own, despite concern about possible backlash.”

The widespread support for Jones at Harvard was the crux of the story. Professor Stauffer’s own position on Jones’s candidacy, which we quoted at length, was a bit more ambiguous than simple “support.” “If officials who take a careful look at the case decide that Harvard should move forward,” he and his co-author wrote, “then we think that the university should do everything in its power and ability to welcome Jones here and support her, and we are indeed happy to play a part in that effort.” What prompted officials to “take a careful look at the case” was the memo Professor Stauffer co-authored, which questioned whether she had minimized her crime “to the point of misrepresentation.”

Stauffer alleges that “Hager further suggested that the memo my colleague, Daniel Carpenter, and I circulated was a highly unusual procedure.”

No, he said that the decision to overrule the judgment of a department regarding the admission of a Ph.D. student was highly unusual. Which no one disputes.

Finally, for the record, the Marshall Project is a news organization that reports on the criminal justice system. We are “an advocacy group” only in the sense that we advocate honest, independent, fact-based, and fair journalism.

Bill Keller is the Editor-In-Chief of the Marshall Project.

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