BY HANK REICHMAN
It’s a pretty safe assumption that a trans woman like Chelsea Manning, who served seven years in military prison for leaking classified documents revealing U.S. government involvement in torture, is not someone who can normally expect to be named a Visiting Fellow at Harvard. But on Wednesday the university’s John F. Kennedy School of Government announced that Manning would indeed be one of four such fellows for the fall semester. The appointment didn’t last long, however. Almost immediately Michael Morell, an ex-CIA chief, resigned from his position as a senior fellow, and Mike Pompeo, the current CIA director, canceled a scheduled Harvard talk. The intelligence agencies were striking back.
Controversial visitors come to campus all the time, don’t they? And isn’t it the conventional wisdom that their rights must be defended at all costs, no matter how unpopular their ideas or past behavior may be? Well, that may be the case when those who visit are right-wing provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos or Ann Coulter and those who protest their visits are minority or leftist students. But apparently it’s not the case when the visitor is on the left and when it’s the spies who are protesting. So, no sooner than one could say “whistleblower,” in an act of mind-boggling spinelessness Harvard reneged on its offer.
“I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a visiting fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility,” Douglas W. Elmendorf, dean of the Kennedy School, said in a statement. “I see more clearly now that many people view a visiting fellow title as an honorific, so we should weigh that consideration when offering invitations … Any determination should start with the presumption that more speech is better than less. In retrospect, though, I think my assessment of that balance for Chelsea Manning was wrong.”
One need not be an admirer of Manning to see a blatant double standard at work. While Manning was pushed out, Corey Lewandowski, arrested for committing battery during the 2016 campaign, and Sean Spicer, who regularly lied to the media, remain as incoming visiting fellows. According to Elmendorf, in judging potential fellows the school must weigh “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.”
So Lewandowski’s and Spicer’s conduct fulfills those values? Really? And what on earth could anyone who’s serious learn from them — other than how to fail spectacularly? And then there’s Morrell himself. This is a man who has steadfastly denied that the C.I.A. engaged in torture, even after the Senate’s damning torture report was released in 2014, declining even to answer a question about whether the agency’s practice of “rectal feeding” constituted torture.
As Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, puts it in a New York Times op-ed, “What Mr. Elmendorf and the Kennedy School are saying, essentially, is that no issue or action is off topic for visiting fellows except, apparently, giving information to journalists and informing the public about what its government is doing behind closed doors.”
In a report on the hundred “most militarized universities in the U.S.,” Harvard was ranked 32 and deemed “the king of executive education for the national security elite and mid-management set.” Could that have had something to do with this decision? “More speech is better,” and all voices should be welcome, sure, but not when money is at stake. Or so says the pitiable Harvard dean.
Writing on the website of The New Republic, Clio Chang hit the nail on the head:
Marginalized communities on college campuses are derided by liberals and conservatives alike for taking political correctness to extremes, but Harvard has shown exactly what they’re up against. The real chilling effect on free speech comes from those with actual power, who receive funding from sources like the military, tech giants, and anti-regulation billionaires like the Koch brothers.
And if you doubt this conclusion, remember that Harvard’s abandonment of Manning comes on the heels of the disclosure that its administrators overruled faculty and denied admission to the Ph.D program in History to Michelle Jones, who had completed a twenty-year prison sentence in Indiana but had demonstrated remarkable talent as a scholar. Although Harvard’s historians called Jones “one of the strongest candidates in the country last year, period,” internal correspondence obtained by the Marshall Project suggests that administrators overruled the department “out of concern that her background would cause a backlash among rejected applicants, conservative news outlets or parents of students.”
It was not just the historians who supported Jones. She received backing from the woman who prosecuted her. “Look, as a mother, I thought it was just an awful crime,” said Diane Marger Moore, now a lawyer at a large firm in Los Angeles. “But what Harvard did is highly inappropriate: I’m the prosecutor, not them. Michelle Jones served her time, and she served a long time, exactly what she deserved. A sentence is a sentence.”
“Michelle was sentenced in a courtroom to serve X years, but we decided — unilaterally — that it should be X years plus no Harvard,” said Alison Frank Johnson, director of graduate studies for Harvard’s history department. “Is it that she did not show the appropriate degree of horror in herself, by applying?”
“We’re not her priests,” Johnson added, using an expletive.
Fortunately for Jones, administrators at NYU were less craven and she has begun a doctoral program there. Chelsea Manning may also be better off without Harvard. She said on Twitter that she was “honored to be 1st disinvited trans woman visiting Harvard fellow.”
President Kennedy gained fame from his prize-winning book Profiles in Courage. How sad that the institute that bears his name and the alma mater he so loved have become sobering profiles in cowardice.
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