Harvard's repudiation of the Chelsea Manning fellowship offer is a rebuke to the campus mindset
A fascinating drama played out yesterday at Harvard, as campus-based politically correct thinking slammed into reality, and the grown-ups had to set the boundaries back to common sense. All very publicly.
The invitation by the Kennedy School of Government's Institute of Politics to Chelsea Manning to become a visiting fellow has been withdrawn in the wake of a firestorm. What mattered to Harvard more than blogger backlash was the resignation of Mike Morrell from a fellowship at the University's Belfer Center and CIA director Mike Pompeo's cancelation of a planned talk and visit. Morrell's statement (embedded below in a tweet) set off alarm bells that Harvard as a whole was placing its relationship with the intelligence and military sectors of the federal government in peril. He states that he cannot be part of an institution that honors a felon and leaker of classified information. He reminds Harvard that senior military leaders have stated that Manning's leaks put the lives of our soldiers at risk.
But here is what got the attention of the real powers at Harvard:
Please know that I am fully aware that Belfer and the IOP are separate institutions within the Kennedy School. And that most likely Belfer had nothing to do with the invitation of Ms. [sic] Manning to be a fellow at IOP. But as an institution, The Kennedy School's decision will assist Ms. [sic] Manning in her long-standing effort to legitimize the criminal path that she [sic] took to prominence, and attempt that may encourage others to leak classified information as well. I have an obligation to my conscience – and I believe to the country – to stand up against any efforts to justify leaks of sensitive national security information.
It is critical that Morrell specifies that he doesn't blame the Belfer Center. This is what tells other parts of Harvard that they could share in the taint, and possibly lose valuable associations with members of the defense and intelligence communities, past, present, and maybe future. Manning's continuing presence on campus could well become a circus, pressuring others to reckon with the principle that Manning's honor of becoming part of the Harvard community encourages others to leak national security information.
Morrell ccs former defense secretary Ash Carter, the head of the Belfer Center, who also must ponder honoring a person who endangered the lives of soldiers.
Morrell does not mention other schools than the Kennedy School, but he is generalizing responsibility from the specific unit of the IOP to the school as a whole. One more step like that, and Harvard as a whole comes under threat. If Manning becomes an ongoing circus, that could happen.
The real powers at Harvard are The Harvard Corporation and The Board of Overseers. They hire and fire presidents, and they control the money. They think in terms of institutional relationships and the long-term health and status of the oldest and wealthiest university in the country, of which they are the custodians. Anything that threatens those must go.
That must be what explains this late-night statement from Kennedy School dean Douglas Elmendorf. To my eyes, the good dean seems a bit worried about his job, as he engages in self-criticism after weaseling around that "fellow" is a pretty generic term that mistakenly he thought did not imply honor. (This obscures the fact that the visiting fellow program to which Manning was invited is a pretty big deal and places very specific teaching obligations on the fellows.)
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.
My guess is that Elmendorf, an economist by training, a student of Martin Feldstein, does not understand the national security community very well. I imagine that when someone passed over his desk for approval the list containing Manning, he thought in terms of diversity. The IOP's press release announcing Manning and three others highlighted: "Class includes first transgender Fellow and former White House Press Secretary[.]"
Here is Morrell's statement:
– Mosheh Oinounou (@Mosheh) September 14, 2017
It is not often that we see a major university rebuke its members for living in a bubble.