Harvard needs to follow its own words


Zoe Haworth

Harvard needs to follow its own words

By Eric Bradach

Harvard University’s Institute of Politics withdrew its invitation Sept. 15 for Chelsea Manning to serve as a visiting fellow during the 2017–2018 academic year, violating its own educational philosophy.

The original invitation to Manning—a transgender woman who spent nearly four years in prison for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified government documents to WikiLeaks in 2010—triggered retaliation from CIA Director Mike Pompeo and former acting CIA Director Michael Morell, both of whom canceled speaking appearances at Harvard Sept. 14, the day after the university announced Manning’s invitation, according to Pompeo’s letter to the university.

The institution stated it is withdrawing the visiting fellow title because critics perceive it as honorific—not because of Manning’s sexual identity—even though Harvard uses the term visiting fellow for speakers who have significantly influenced world events. However, Manning will still be allowed to spend a day at the institution and speak, according to a Sept. 15 IOP press release.

Meanwhile, Harvard has bestowed the title of visiting fellow on Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign manager; Corey Lewandowski, President Donald Trump’s former presidential campaign manager; and Sean Spicer, Trump’s former White House press secretary. 

So rather than honoring an individual who sacrificed her freedom to inform the American people of its government’s wrongdoings, critics think Harvard should honor individuals who help lose presidential elections to reality TV stars, are charged with battery after confrontations with reporters and hide behind bushes when their job gets rough.

The university is one step away from banning her from speaking because someone in power was offended by a meaningless title. Manning’s critics can learn from Harvard’s own words—and the institution itself needs to heed them.

“While we do not shy away from controversy, we insist that all speakers take questions, and these questions are often hard and challenging ones,” the Sept. 15 press release stated. “Hearing a very wide range of views, regardless of what members of our community think about the people offering those views, is fundamental to the learning process.”

Whether one disagrees with Manning’s actions and considers them treason is irrelevant. She was pardoned by former President Barack Obama in January and released in May. She served her time.

Harvard’s rollback goes against its own comments, which tells its students that they should always succumb to those with power rather than challenge them.

Higher educational institutions should always welcome differing viewpoints and perceptions to broaden students’ horizons and invite reasoned debate.

Pompeo is a U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Harvard Law School graduate, according to the CIA’s website. Morell has a master’s degree in economics from Georgetown University in Washington D.C., according to Beacon Global Strategies’ website—where he is a senior counselor.

These are two well-educated men who should understand their actions go against the purpose of higher education. If Pompeo and Morell truly believe they are correct and think Manning is a traitor, they should welcome the challenge to engage with her in an open debate on a public stage. This was their opportunity, but instead, they are running away.