Harvard withdraws fellowship offer to Chelsea Manning

On Wednesday, the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School announced that Chelsea Manning would be one of roughly ten visiting fellows this fall. 

We invited Chelsea Manning because the Kennedy School’s longstanding approach to visiting speakers is to invite some people who have significantly influenced events in the world even if they do not share our values and even if their actions or words are abhorrent to some members of our community. 

We do this not to endorse those actions or legitimize those words, but because engaging with people with fundamentally different worldviews can help us to become better public leaders. 

Because controversy pervades many questions in politics and public policy, some speakers are controversial. 

While we do not shy away from that controversy, we insist that all speakers take questions, and these questions are often hard and challenging ones.

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 at the Kennedy School.

Some visitors to the Kennedy School are invited for just a few hours to give a talk in the School’s Forum or in one of our lecture halls or seminar rooms; other visitors stay for a full day, a few days, a semester, or longer. 

Among the visitors who stay more than a few hours, some are designated as ‘Visiting Fellows,’ ‘Resident Fellows,’ ‘Nonresident Fellows,’ and the like. 

At any point in time, the Kennedy School has hundreds of fellows playing many different roles at the School. 

In general across the School, we do not view the title of ‘Fellow’ as conveying a special honor; rather, it is a way to describe some people who spend more than a few hours at the School.

We invited Chelsea Manning to spend a day at the Kennedy School.

Specifically, we invited her to meet with students and others who are interested in talking with her, and then to give remarks in the Forum where the audience would have ample opportunity – as with all of our speakers – to ask hard questions and challenge what she has said and done. 

On that basis, we also named Chelsea Manning a Visiting Fellow. 

We did not intend to honor her in any way or to endorse any of her words or deeds, as we do not honor or endorse any Fellow.

However, 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. 

I apologize to her and to the many concerned people from whom I have heard today for not recognizing upfront the full implications of our original invitation. 

This decision now is not intended as a compromise between competing interest groups but as the correct way for the Kennedy School to emphasize its longstanding approach to visiting speakers while recognizing that the title of Visiting Fellow implies a certain recognition.

                                                                                                             –  Douglas W. Elmendorf 

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