So Chelsea Manning is no longer a “visiting fellow” at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Manning’s still on the docket to speak and to meet with students eager to learn, presumably how one betrays ones country.
While others begin foaming at the mouth that Harvard–well, the Institute of Politics (IOP) at the Kennedy School–is giving convicted felons the time of day, I just shrug and ask the offended to consider the other notables on this year’s list of visiting fellows. Should you have any notion that this moniker conveys any sense of earned honor or any recognition of worthy attributes, take a look at who else is on the list:
Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, no strangers to political posturing.
Robby Mook, genius behind Hilary Clinton’s sparkling 2016 presidential campaign.
Corey Lewandowski, political operative and off-again-on-again Trump employee.
Rounding out the list are a bunch of pundits you see on TV all the time, if you still watch, and some mayors and governors nobody outside their fiefdoms has ever heard of. Harvard plays the long game.
So, no, I can’t muster a whole lot of outrage that Chelsea Manning was scooped up by the IOP.
But what does outrage me is that IOP’s September 13, 2017 announcement of visiting fellows begins with this proud headline:
Class includes first transgender Fellow and former White House Press Secretary
I find it so very interesting that the headline could just have easily have read, “Class includes first dishonorably discharged Fellow [Chelsea Manning] and former White House Press Secretary [Sean Spicer]” or “Class includes first convicted felon [Chelsea Manning] and former White House Press Secretary [Sean Spicer].” Interesting, but not surprising. Harvard is not anything if not au courant with the latest -ism to be embraced by opinion-makers and the culturally in-the-know.
All of this begs the question as to whether Manning is offended by the title “fellow.” But no matter; Harvard has yanked it–the title–but maintained its invitation to the felonious Manning. With more than a little arrogance, Douglas Elmendorf, Dean of the Kennedy School issued a statement, which says in part:
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.
Say what? The “balance” between the value of what a convicted felon/dishonorably discharged/demoted ex-Army private has to say and said felon’s “conduct” with regard to public service is “not easy” to determine? Really?
Since the “balance” was so difficult to discern in this instance, Dean Elmendorf concludes his statement with an apology. An apology for the poor judgment in prioritizing what an ex-con, who many believe should still be serving time in Leavenworth, has to say over practically any other honorably discharged veteran? Well, no. The apology, of course, is to Manning. Aww.
A postscript–just between Dean Elmendorf and me. So, Dean, you say, the Kennedy School “did not intend to honor [Manning] in any way…as we do not honor or endorse any Fellow.” You add, “I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility….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 other words, you are not “accepting responsibility”–you are pushing off blame to where it belongs: on the rubes and yahoos who think it’s an honor to be associated with Harvard, if even for a day. How deplorably, disgustingly disingenuous can you be? Do you live in a world so insulated that you fail to keep in mind that Harvard College accepts only about 2,000 men and women of the 40,000 or so who apply each year? Why not try asking one of the rejects if they think “visiting fellow”–even at the IOP–conveys an honor.
What about the Harvard name? Evidently the University disagrees with your bland assumption that slapping the Harvard brand, even a title so supposedly puffy and meaningless as “visiting fellow,” on something or someone carries no weight. So much so, in fact, that the university has a lengthy policy on the “Use of Harvard Names and Insignias.” And I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of a letter from one of Harvard’s lawyers if I tried to market my “Veritas Vineyards Harvard Blend Meritage.”
Really, dean, you are super smart, and so are all of the people you surround yourself with. Good for you. Good for them. Try to remember from time to time, however, that you are not omnipotent, and that maybe, just maybe, there are some smart people beyond the Charles that maybe, just maybe, you haven’t met. Stop patronizing them.