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With Chelsea Manning Invitation, Harvard Got a Discussion It Didn’t Want

Chelsea Manning said she was “honored” to be disinvited as a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.


For Jim Pershing, who aspires to a career in international relations, studying at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government was a chance to immerse himself in a heady ecosystem where power players from the top echelons of the state, the nonprofit sector, the military and the media all converge.
“In terms of government and policy practitioners, Harvard draws the biggest names,” said Mr. Pershing, 25, a student here.
It was the collision this week of some of those prominent names that thrust the Kennedy School into an uncomfortable controversy over whether it should confer its prestige and honor on people who have broken the law.
On Wednesday, the school’s Institute of Politics announced that it had accepted Chelsea Manning, a former United States soldier jailed for seven years for leaking classified information, as one of its visiting fellows.
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 Just after midnight Friday, the Kennedy School dean rescinded Ms.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.
Douglas W. Elmendorf, the dean of the Kennedy School. Credit


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.


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