Harvard fellowship should be an honor

Liam Verses

Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics invited Chelsea Manning as a visiting fellow last Wednesday. The decision prompted the resignation of former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell from his Kennedy fellowship, who slammed the decision as “legitimizing the criminal path” that Manning took on her road to infamy. Private First Class Manning, a convicted Army officer who leaked hundreds of thousands of documents to Wikileaks, should never have been invited to the Harvard fellowship in the first place.

Manning released the largest amount of classified material in United States history, leaking confidential diplomatic and military documents into the public sphere. Among these were thousands of classified files concerning the Iraq War, thousands more from the war in Afghanistan, 250,000 diplomatic cables, airstrike videos and files from Guantanamo Bay. The gravity of the crime matched the penalty. However, President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence of 35 years down to seven years.

What message are we sending to college students by inviting a convicted renegade—who at one point was accused of aiding the enemy—to speak at one of the most prestigious universities in the world? More importantly, what message are we sending to our servicemen and servicewomen at home and abroad?

Manning’s actions don’t warrant any compelling defense — logs contained the names of hundreds of individuals who cooperated with American forces, people feared to be at risk. Though Politico reported there were no deaths directly caused by the links, that recklessness has no place at any institution of higher learning in the United States, let alone Harvard.

Manning’s no hero and is certainly not a friend of the United States. Her 17 convictions, including multiple counts of espionage, overshadow any meaningful contribution she could provide at Harvard. Manning deserved her original sentence, not a Harvard fellowship.

Harvard Kennedy School of Government Dean Elmendorf said in a statement, “We did not intend to honor (Manning) 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.”

Morell said he had an obligation to resign from his position in protest to “make the point that leaking classified information is disgraceful and damaging to our nation.” Manning took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and she flagrantly disregarded that vow. No person or institution should provide a forum for such grand betrayal. To do so is an implicit pardoning of Manning’s actions, and that’s unacceptable.

No one argues that Harvard cannot invite any individual it chooses to its fellowship programs. However, whom Harvard chooses to invite reflects its values and credibility, and neither of the former stand when faced with Manning’s invitation.

Verses is a Plan II and environmental engineering freshman from San Antonio. Follow him on Twitter @liamverses.