Why I’m having nothing to do with Harvard’s Kennedy School for the foreseeable future

by Henry Farrell on September 15, 2017

The New York Times reports that the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Government has revoked its invitation to Chelsea Manning to be a fellow this year.

The decision by the Kennedy School followed forceful denunciations by a former top official at the C.I.A. and the current director at the agency. Michael J. Morell, a deputy director at the intelligence agency under President Barack Obama, resigned as a fellow on Thursday, calling the invitation to Ms. Manning “wholly inappropriate.” He said it “honors a convicted felon and leaker of classified information.” … Pompeo, who graduated from Harvard Law School, wrote in a letter to a Kennedy School official, adding that he commended Mr. Morell’s decision to resign. He added, “It has everything to do with her identity as a traitor to the United States of America and my loyalty to the officers of the C.I.A.”

It appears that the decision was taken by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Dean, Doug Elmendorf.

Institutions like the Kennedy School both reflect and advise the senior levels of the US political system. This means that they work with and invite people with a wide variety of beliefs and past histories, some of which I personally find obnoxious, and some of which I personally think are worthy of great moral condemnation. I’m more or less OK with the Kennedy School doing that – given what it is, that’s plausibly part of its mission. It hasn’t stopped me from e.g. giving a talk there, or considering other forms of participation.

But when the Kennedy School rescinds an invitation – as it just has – because of pressure from one side in the debate, it seems to me that the Kennedy School cannot appeal any more to that kind of defense. It isn’t reflecting both sides in a debate – instead, it is suggesting that people on one side of it (including such universally celebrated luminaries as Corey Lewandowski and Sean Spicer) are worthy of being honored, while Chelsea Manning is not. Personally, I’m not prepared to go along with that.

Hence, unless the Kennedy School changes this decision, or otherwise shows evidence of a real change in heart (e.g. if a new administration makes it clear in future years that people like Manning are welcome), I’m going to have nothing to do with the Kennedy School as an institution in the future. Specifically, I will not accept any future invitations to give talks there, nor will I participate in conferences, workshops or other events organized by the Kennedy School. Nor will I do anything else that suggests my personal willingness to be involved in Kennedy School activities (where there are borderline cases, my rule of thumb will be to refuse activities with Kennedy School that either suggest personal endorsement, or that provide me with personal benefits). I will continue to maintain personal contacts with individuals at the Kennedy School, while making my unhappiness with their institution’s politics clear.

I don’t have any particular illusions that this will change minds at the Kennedy School (although perhaps if many other academics feel the same way I do, it will). But since this is the one small thing I can do, I’m doing it.

Update: I’ve gotten a request via email to turn this into a petition. So if you agree feel free to sign on below. If you have broader comments make them here instead.



Tahfromslc 09.15.17 at 3:27 pm

Thank you. When I received my MPP there in 1987, Ed Meese was the commencement speaker. My degree felt tarnished then. Now, I am thinking of burning my diploma.


Gordon Arsenoff 09.15.17 at 4:13 pm

Count me a signatory.


BruceJ 09.15.17 at 4:52 pm

This is even more reprehensible in light of the leaking of the report showing little or no harm to national security from her leak.


And secondarily, how the hell does Buzzfeed, most well known for silly listicles and absurd quizzes is getting scoops like this??

(like ‘Choose how you carve your pumpkin and we’ll tell you what costume to put on your dog this halloween’ seriously, real: https://www.buzzfeed.com/jessiejohnson/carve-a-pumpkin-and-well-tell-you-what-to-dress-y-2uajy?utm_term=.iuowdKvwg#.rsvl67ylB )


Ted Lemon 09.15.17 at 5:47 pm

You can count me in, for what it’s worth (probably not very much). :]


christian h. 09.15.17 at 10:19 pm

I’m a mathematician so it seems extremely unlikely I’d ever interact with the Kennedy School, but for it’s worth count me in.

Christian Haesemeyer
Prof of Pure Mathematics
University of Melbourne


Donald Johnson 09.16.17 at 1:58 pm

I have a better chance of being pushed into a wall by Brownian motion while walking down a hallway, but if the Kennedy School invites me to speak I will refuse.


Katha Pollitt 09.18.17 at 1:29 pm

This will never happen, but if they invite me, I’ll decline. In addition to everything else, Corey Lewandowski assaulted a woman reporter. So Kennedy School is not only normalizing Trump, it’s normalizing violence against women.

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