Chelsea Manning was one of many public figures invited to be a Visiting Fellow this year at the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School. But a day later, Harvard University rescinded the offer after a prominent Trump supporter denounced the decision.
A Visiting Fellow at the IOP gives speeches, answers questions, and is generally supposed to enhance the education of students of government at Harvard. Manning, a former soldier who served seven years in prison after releasing a number of classified documents through Wikileaks and has now become a prominent activist against government secrecy and for transgender rights, was invited to be a fellow this year along with figures like Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former press secretary Sean Spicer.
After the announcement on Wednesday, CIA director Mike Pompeo cancelled a scheduled speech at Harvard because he said the university was going to “honor” a “traitor.”
On Thursday, Harvard dean Douglas Elmendorf called Manning to cancel the fellowship, but still offered to allow her to speak on campus and fulfill all the other responsibilities that come with being a fellow. She refused the offer.
By Friday, Elmendorf had released a statement that explained the decision in terms of political optics. “I see more clearly now that many people view a Visiting Fellow title as an honorific,” he wrote, acknowledging that his assessment of the value she would bring to students hadn’t changed, but that she would be bad for the school’s reputation.
Indeed, the original complaint about Manning’s fellowship was likely driven by partisanship as well. Pompeo is an “ardent” Trump supporter, to the point that career CIA officials are worried about the independence of the agency with him at the head. “It’s almost as if he can’t resist the impulse to be political,” one official told the Chicago Tribune.
Moreover, his opinion about Wikileaks changes depending on who they’re leaking about. While he has in the past decried Wikileaks as a “hostile intelligence service,” he has also cited them as a reliable source in several of his tweets and in media interviews last year when they released emails from people working on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
If, as Elmendorf says, the title of Visiting Fellow is not an honor or an endorsement of anyone’s views, he should have just said so and left it at that. By caving to the Fox News set, he makes me wonder why Lewandowski and Spicer are still receiving this honor from the university.