More than 15,000 people have signed an online petition condemning the Kennedy School of Government for rescinding a fellowship invitation to Chelsea Manning.
Last week, the Institute of Politics announced that Manning, a transgender activist and former U.S. Army soldier who went to prison after leaking classified government documents, would serve as a visiting fellow this fall. But soon after backlash from conservatives and some national security officials, including the current and former directors of the CIA, Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf rescinded Manning’s invitation.
The petition, sponsored by a group of Harvard graduates, criticizes Elmendorf’s decision.
“By caving in to pressure from present and former top officials of the CIA, you have jettisoned academic freedom,” the petition reads.
Harvard graduates Victor E. Wallis ’59, Margaret M. Gullette ’62, David G. Gullette ’62, Inez K. Hedges ’68, and Yoshiaki Shimizu ’59 sponsored the petition on the website RootsAction.org. It joins a wave of backlash from some undergraduate groups and commentators across the country denouncing Elmendorf’s decision.
In an interview, Wallis said RootsAction organizers he had worked with before approached him with the idea for the petition and asked him if he would deliver it to the Kennedy School. He agreed and enlisted his friends, the other four Harvard graduates who are supporting the petition, to accompany him.
In addition to finding fault with the Kennedy School for uninviting Manning, the petition criticizes the school for inviting former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to serve as an IOP Visiting Fellow.
“[Spicer] was definitely not a truth teller—he was anything but,” he said. “He had the role of a PR person on behalf of Trump, whose whole campaign was based on lies right from the start.”
Wallis said he approves of Chelsea Manning’s decision to leak because the documents shed light on American practices during wars abroad.
“It's a question of truth-telling,” Wallis said. “Harvard's motto is ‘veritas,’ commitment to the truth. Chelsea Manning disclosed truths that are uncomfortable to those who make U.S. policy, but it's important for people to know them.”
A Kennedy School spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
The petition’s criticism of the Kennedy School for hiring Spicer comes days after hundreds of Harvard alumni signed a letter to University President Drew G. Faust and Elmendorf arguing that the IOP should not have offered Spicer and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski fellowships.
Lewandowski was fired from Trump’s presidential campaign after police charged him with misdemeanor battery.
The five Harvard graduates plan to deliver the petition to the Kennedy School on Friday morning. They will also hold a news conference to discuss the petition.
—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.
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