Harvard’s Bipartisan Gesture on Chelsea Manning Leaves No Side Happy


The invitation set off an uproar, with many people complaining that Ms. Manning was a traitor to the country and should not be honored with a Harvard fellowship. Just after midnight Friday, the Kennedy School dean rescinded Ms. Manning’s fellowship, prompting another round of complaints by others who saw a vaunted institution buckling under political pressure.

In inviting people from all ideologies, including some considered odious to the opposing side, Harvard had hoped to provoke discussion across party lines in a campus setting that would keep hyperpartisanship at bay.

Others on the visiting fellows roster include: Sean Spicer, President Trump’s former press secretary; Corey Lewandowski, Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager; and, from the media world, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC.

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Douglas W. Elmendorf, the dean of the Kennedy School.

Credit
Drew Angerer for The New York Times

But the ivory tower ideal of the campus as an arena for the free exchange of ideas — one being challenged at colleges across the country — exploded over the Manning episode. And Harvard is being attacked not only by conservative commentators but by the very government-media establishment that the Kennedy School depends on and has a revolving-door relationship with.

One of the classes offered here is called “From Harvard Square to the Oval Office.” The dean of the school, Douglas W. Elmendorf, is the former director of the Congressional Budget Office.

Many students here intend to run for elective office some day. Others, like Mr. Pershing, who went to the University of Notre Dame and served in the Peace Corps, are creating their own areas of specialty, in his case, a combination of national security and crisis management. Many politicians and other well-known figures end up at the Institute of Politics during a pause in their careers.

Kennedy School alumni and former Institute fellows include many marquee names: Jeb Bush, the former Republican governor of Florida and unsuccessful presidential candidate; Ed Rendell, the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania; Raymond W. Kelly, the former New York City police commissioner; and Bill O’Reilly, who received a master’s degree from the school before becoming a top-rated host on Fox News and then losing his job in a sexual harassment scandal.

The backlash to Ms. Manning’s appointment began Wednesday morning, when a news release announced her fellowship.

It billed Ms. Manning, who was Pfc. Bradley Manning in the Army, as the “first transgender fellow.” The release went on to describe her as a former Army intelligence analyst and advocate for queer and transgender rights. Her conviction, for leaking classified military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, was mentioned at the end, almost parenthetically. She was released from prison this year after President Barack Obama, in his last days in office, commuted her 35-year prison sentence.

Harvard was inundated with complaints, many of them from the right. But the lid blew off on Thursday when Michael J. Morell, a deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency under Mr. Obama, resigned from his fellowship in protest, saying the invitation “honors a convicted felon and leaker of classified information.”

That was topped Thursday night by the current director of the C.I.A., Mike Pompeo, who did not show up at a scheduled Harvard forum and cited Ms. Manning’s fellowship as the reason. “Ms. Manning betrayed her country,” Mr. Pompeo, who graduated from Harvard Law School, wrote to a Kennedy School official.

Just after midnight Friday, Mr. Elmendorf called Ms. Manning’s team in California and said he was stripping her of the fellow title.

In an early-morning message posted on the school’s website, Mr. Elmendorf said that while the university encouraged a diversity of opinions, naming Ms. Manning a fellow had been a mistake. Still, he said, he would allow her to spend a day at the school and speak at its forum.

In his lengthy and nuanced letter, Mr. Elmendorf focused on the honor that the title conferred on recipients.

“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,” Mr. Elmendorf wrote. He said he had struck the wrong balance between the values of academic freedom and commitment to public service.

A spokesman for the school said that it would not comment beyond Mr. Elmendorf’s letter.

Ms. Manning will lose a fee of about $1,000 for being a visiting fellow, according to sources familiar with the process. As a speaker, she would not be paid.

Ms. Manning responded publicly on Twitter early Friday, writing that she was “honored” to be disinvited. She said the institution was chilling “marginalized voices under C.I.A. pressure.”

In another tweet, she said: “this is what a military/police/intel state looks like — the @cia determines what is and is not taught @harvard.”

The revocation of her appointment brought more firestorms, both lacerating criticism as well as kudos.

“At an institution where we have so many classes on moral courage and leadership, in this instance, the dean did not exercise leadership or moral courage,” said Pranav Reddy, 27, a student from Cleveland who has a medical degree and is pursuing a master’s degree in public policy at the Kennedy School.

“The institution is kowtowing to the powers that be,” he said.

The Nation magazine ripped into Mr. Pompeo, saying he “bullied Harvard into throwing Chelsea Manning to the curb.”

At the same time, R. Nicholas Burns, a professor of the practice of diplomacy and international relations at the Kennedy School, and a former career foreign service officer who had high-ranking positions in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, said Mr. Elmendorf had struck the right balance. He said he had supported Hillary Clinton in the last election but believed that Ms. Manning had put foreign service diplomats, the overseas intelligence community and the military at risk by leaking documents.

“It’s not just conservatives” who objected, Mr. Burns said.

A former longtime Republican aide on Capitol Hill, Mark Strand also characterized the invitation to Ms. Manning as a mistake. But Mr. Strand, now a resident fellow at the Institute, meaning he will spend much of the semester there, said he also believed it could become a teaching moment after all.

“I think Dean Elmendorf showed a lot of courage by providing a full explanation and a thoughtful and genuine apology,” Mr. Strand said. “That’s unusual in politics and an important lesson for Harvard students.”

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