Harvard’s Profile in Cowardice

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.


Users who have liked this post. Please consider sharing on social media and/or making a comment below.

  • avatar

6 thoughts on “Harvard’s Profile in Cowardice

  1. It appears that the AAUP, as well, has a double standard: one set of rules applied to institutions where members of its leadership are faculty members, and another for the Ivy League.

    Steven Salaita, too, might be better off without Illinois, but that didn’t stop the AAUP leadership from a full court investigation and censure of Illinois. Where is the censure of Harvard for its endemic violations of the 1940 Standards?

    The AAUP leadership was also concerned that a Jewish alumni lobby and threatened withdrawal of contributions influenced the Illinois administration to cancel Salaita’s invitation. Here we have a federal official’s simple “shunning” of Harvard, and Manning’s invitation was withdrawn. The Harvard Manning Affair bears striking similarities to the Illinois Salaita Affair — but raises the stakes to a hitherto unimagined scale.

    Visiting Fellows are faculty and, while the title may be perceived as an “honorific”, so is the title of any faculty member. The AAUP leadership is failing to defend the academic freedom of faculty who are not on the tenure track. Indeed, where are the words “academic freedom” in the AAUP Vice President’s blog? Nowhere to be found. Chelsea Manning’s statement quoted in the press directly confronts the issue of chilled speech — a statement not cited in the blog for an obvious reason: the cowardice of the AAUP leadership.

    Harvard is Harvard, and the Trump administration, in an act signifying the rise of fascism in America, flexed its muscles and Harvard genuflected. The second scandal is: by relegating its response to a simple blog post, it appears that so has the AAUP.

    • I will leave it to readers to decide for themselves whether the AAUP can best serve the interests of adjuncts by launching full-scale investigations of the Visiting Fellow program at the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics. But one claim in this comment cannot go without correction. Nowhere did the AAUP ever in its response to the Salaita dismissal make reference to a Jewish alumni lobby. Others may have; we did not. The charge was unsubstantiated and, frankly, irrelevant. But, again, readers may judge for themselves. Here is the full report of the investigation, which I led: https://www.aaup.org/report/UIUC

      • Since when does the AAUP’s Committee A leave it to “readers” to determine whether there should be an investigation of alleged violations of academic freedom in the summary dismissal of an academic appointment without due process at one of the world’s most prestigious universities?

        Harvard is an institution with a notorious track record of egregious institutional policies which openly violate the 1940 Statement, not only in its treatment of adjuncts but of tenure-stream faculty as well.

        The report of the AAUP’s investigating committee in the matter of the Illinois Salaita Affair set a record new low for the Association due to its egregious violation of the AAUP’s longstanding procedures for Committee A. The investigating committee led by the AAUP Vice President openly admits in the report that it relied upon the report of a local university committee’s “investigation” rather than conduct its own full-scale inquiry.

        The confusion in my comment about the suspected wealthy donor influences comes from a recollection of press reports and a thread on the Academe Blog — which the reader is invited to consult for a rendition of the results of a state Freedom of Information request on external influences as well as postings which review the failings of the local committee’s investigation and Committee A’s improper reliance on the in-house report rather than conduct a direct investigation by its own appointed committee: https://academeblog.org/2015/05/16/why-salaita-was-un-hired-the-missing-facts-in-the-aaup-and-caft-reports/

        In short, the AAUP leadership, by the post and the above condescending and dismissive blog reply, is confirming not only its own cowardice in abandoning the Harvard Manning Affair to “readers” — but the serious dereliction of its duty to uphold the principles of the organization. A word search of the AAUP Vice President’s posting on this matter does not even contain the words “academic freedom” and appears to even conflate the rejection of a graduate student in admissions with the summary dismissal of an academic appointment.

        In the meantime, of course, while the AAUP leadership fumbles the ball, and fails to even prepare and release a formal statement of concern, the mainstream media has documented the exertion of influence by the Trump administration in the summary dismissal of Chelsea Manning from her already-granted academic appointment. The violation of academic freedom at Harvard weakens academic freedom everywhere — but there is no more AAUP General Secretary to be the conscience of the Association and the leader of Committee A.

        The AAUP of yesteryear is dead. John Dewey is turning in his grave.

  2. Harvard’s announcement of the formal appointment of Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow: https://www.hks.harvard.edu/announcements/institute-politics-harvard-kennedy-school-announces-additional-visiting-fellows

    Lest anyone miss the obvious: there is no doubt that the visiting faculty appointment was made — nor that it was subsequently rescinded. In other words, the announcement was not of “invitations” to individuals but of appointments made. The teaching mission of the program is also highlighted in the announcement. Visiting Fellows are not students but short-term faculty; the term is inherited from the Oxbridge tradition.

  3. Finally, note that Harvard’s “dis-invitation” of Chelsea Manning was as a Visiting Fellow (i.e. her short-term faculty appointment was withdrawn) and that an “invitation” to be a simple speaker at Harvard and spend the day was still on the table: https://www.hks.harvard.edu/announcements/statement-dean-elmendorf-regarding-invitation-chelsea-manning-be-visiting-fellow

    As a person who has been a Visiting Fellow several times at another Ivy League institution, I am very familiar with this process. The “honorific” in question is a form of adjunct faculty status, of course, regardless of the duration of the appointment.

  4. Of course, the AAUP Vice President’s dismissal of the perceived need to censure Harvard for its longstanding and ongoing policies of academic freedom violation is just more evidence of the cowardice and inbred/insider attitude of the AAUP leadership.

    If an AAUP State Conference President wrote the reader comments appended to this blog, Committee A would be considering an investigation or at least a formal press release, but when an “outsider” member challenges an AAUP national election for improprieties and the US Department of Labor overturns it and has it re-run under government supervision, then anything that challenger writes from that day forward, no matter how correct and cogent, will be rejected out of hand. In other words, the AAUP leadership itself has an ongoing history of not meeting the academic freedom and governance standards which the Association expects of colleges and universities.

    John Dewey is turning in his grave….

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.