“We did not intend to honor her in any way or to endorse any of her words or deeds”
Earlier this week, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government offered fellowships to former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and convicted spy, Chelsea Manning.
To Harvard’s shock, the blowback for offering a spy and traitor a fellowship was swift and intense. Douglas W. Elmendorf, Dean of Harvard Kennedy School, issued a statement rescinding the offer to Manning. While the fellowship offer was withdrawn, Elmendorf indicated Manning’s campus speaking invitation was not.
Elmendorf’s explanation centered around whether a fellowships are esteemed positions. “In general across the School, we do not view the title of “Fellow” as conveying a special honor; rather, it is a way to describe some people who spend more than a few hours at the School,” he wrote.
We invited Chelsea Manning to spend a day at the Kennedy School. Specifically, we invited her to meet with students and others who are interested in talking with her, and then to give remarks in the Forum where the audience would have ample opportunity—as with all of our speakers—to ask hard questions and challenge what she has said and done. On that basis, we also named Chelsea Manning a Visiting Fellow. We did not intend to honor her in any way or to endorse any of her words or deeds, as we do not honor or endorse any Fellow.
However, I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility. I still think that having her speak in the Forum and talk with students is consistent with our longstanding approach, which puts great emphasis on the value of hearing from a diverse collection of people. But 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. In particular, I think we should weigh, for each potential visitor, 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. This balance is not always easy to determine, and reasonable people can disagree about where to strike the balance for specific people. 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. Therefore, we are withdrawing the invitation to her to serve as a Visiting Fellow—and the perceived honor that it implies to some people—while maintaining the invitation for her to spend a day at the Kennedy School and speak in the Forum. I apologize to her and to the many concerned people from whom I have heard today for not recognizing upfront the full implications of our original invitation. This decision now is not intended as a compromise between competing interest groups but as the correct way for the Kennedy School to emphasize its longstanding approach to visiting speakers while recognizing that the title of Visiting Fellow implies a certain recognition.
In response to Harvard’s offering Manning a fellowship, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell resigned from his fellowship at Harvard saying, “I cannot be part of an organization … that honors a convicted felon and leaker of classified information.”
Manning, a former army intelligence analyst, leaked thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks and was subsequently sentenced to 35 years. Before leaving office, President Obama commuted her sentence.
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