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Harvard Kennedy School Adopts New Vetting Process for Fellows After Year of Controversies

Douglas W. Elmendorf, Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, announces that CIA Director Mike Pompeo has backed out of an Institute of Politics event to protest the HKS fellowship of Chelsea Manning.
Douglas W. Elmendorf, Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, announces that CIA Director Mike Pompeo has backed out of an Institute of Politics event to protest the HKS fellowship of Chelsea Manning. By Zennie L. Wey
By Alexandra A. Chaidez, Crimson Staff Writer

The Harvard Kennedy School has adopted new guidelines for vetting fellows following a year in which its decision to appoint Chelsea Manning and several Trump administration officials to fellowships generated campus and national backlash, Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf said in an interview Tuesday.

The new protocols will take into account a candidate’s “values” and his or her potential for engaging with the school, among other considerations. If a candidate proves particularly divisive among HKS affiliates, the dean pledged to convene a committee to review the candidate.

Elmendorf said he spent last spring “talking with people around the school” about the roles of fellows — conversations which resulted in a new set of guidelines meant to regulate the fellow selection process at different research centers. Though faculty are still reviewing the guidelines before they decide whether to formally approve the new rules, Elmendorf said the school has already begun to follow the guidelines “as an ongoing practical matter.”

The changes come almost exactly a year after the school released a statement in Oct. 2017 saying administrators were “working to better understand our current practices for applying the term 'Fellow,' and to establish consistent standards across the School.” That statement came in response to criticism the school received for extending a fellowship invitation — and then rescinding that invitation — to Manning, a former U.S. army soldier and transgender rights advocate who was convicted of leaking several thousand classified documents to WikiLeaks.

After HKS named Manning a fellow, Kennedy School senior fellow and former CIA deputy director Michael J. Morrell resigned from his post and CIA Director Mike Pompeo backed out of an event at the school’s Institute of Politics to protest the decision. Early the next day, Elmendorf rescinded Manning’s appointment and called her selection “a mistake” — sparking several campus organizations to release a letter in support of Manning. More than 15,000 people also signed a petition created by Harvard graduates condemning the school’s decision to disinvite Manning.

The Manning controversy was one of several the school confronted during fall 2017. More than 2,000 alumni at one point signed a petition to revoke the fellowships of former White House press Sean Spicer and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, arguing that the former Trump officials damaged public discourse and promoted “white nationalism.” Spicer also garnered criticism after visiting Harvard several times without holding any on-the-record events.

The imbroglios prompted the school to reflect on the ways in which it chooses fellows — and what, exactly, the term “fellow” means.

The school has a variety of fellowships associated with its 11 research centers, which include the IOP, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. These centers offer a wide range of fellowship experiences; some encourage teaching or engaging with undergraduates, some are geared toward research, some are tailored toward post-doctoral fellows, and others bring in political bigwigs.

“Part of the difficulty of overseeing the fellows at the Kennedy School is that they come in so many different varieties and play different roles in our educational mission,” Elmendorf said.

As part of the new guidelines, he said, fellows who come to the Kennedy School should expect “sustained engagement with real faculty oversight.”

“If you're coming just to give a talk or a couple talks in a day, then you should not be a fellow at the Kennedy School,” he added. “You should come and we will listen to you, but you wouldn't be a fellow.”

Elmendorf also said school administrators charged with evaluating candidates should assess whether they model the “values” of the Kennedy School.

“If they will be here long enough, and that we think for other reasons because of expertise they should have the title of fellow, then we will also consider whether they have behaved in ways that seem consistent with our values,” he said.

The dean was referring to the values of public leadership he outlined in a speech to students in 2017, according to Kennedy School spokesperson Gail M. Chalef. They include the “importance of truth and knowledge,” “civil discourse and compromise,” and “focusing attention on those who have been disadvantaged.”

The other values Elmendorf emphasized in the speech were “the worth of each person” regardless of characteristics like race, gender, and sexual orientation — as well as the creation of governments and institutions that “act effectively in the public interest.”

In a recent interview, Elmendorf said that, in cases where there may be disagreement over whether it is “appropriate” for someone to be a fellow, he will convene a committee of faculty members to review the applicant’s proposal.

The school is also working to increase the diversity of fellows “along demographic lines, along ideological lines, and in other ways,” he said.

The Kennedy School has faced scrutiny in recent years for its lack of racial and gender diversity among students, faculty and staff. Diversifying the pool of fellows is easier and quicker than shifting the demographics of other groups at the school, since fellows turn over each year, Elmendorf said.

Daniel B. Harsha, a spokesperson for the Kennedy School’s Ash Center, said fellows add a “richness and diversity” to the center.

“We have long committed to engage emerging scholars with great promise as well as the very best leaders in their fields, be they academics or practitioners, to inform our faculty’s research, teaching, and impact on practice,” Harsha said.

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at alexandra.chaidez@thecrimson.com. Fellow her on Twitter at @a_achaidez.

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