To some, she’s a hero. To others, she’s a traitor. To Harvard University, Chelsea Manning is a scholar -- or was, briefly. The institution announced this week that Manning, who served seven years in military prison for sharing classified documents with Wikileaks before seeing her sentence commuted by President Obama, was to be one of four new visiting fellows at its Institute of Politics. Manning is now a network security expert and would have been Harvard’s first transgender fellow.
But following major backlash over the announcement -- including the resignation of senior institute fellow Michael Morrell, former acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency -- Harvard rescinded the appointment early Friday.
“I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a visiting fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility,” Douglas W. Elmendorf, dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, said in a statement. “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 … 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.”
Elmendorf said that Harvard withdrew Manning’s invitation to serve as a visiting fellow, “and the perceived honor it implies to some,” while maintaining its invitation for her to spend a day at the Kennedy School and speak there this academic year.
“I apologize to her and to the many concerned people from whom I have heard today for not recognizing up front the full implications of our original invitation,” Elmendorf said. “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.”
In a letter sent and shared on social media Thursday, Morrell told Elmendorf he was stepping down because Manning’s appointment would assist her in her “longstanding effort to legitimize the criminal path that she took to prominence, an attempt that may encourage others to leak classified information as well.”
He added, “I have an obligation to my conscience -- and I believe to the country -- to stand up against any efforts to justify leaks of sensitive national security information.”
Mike Pompeo, CIA director, also criticized Harvard in a letter Thursday and backed out of a planned talk there, saying making Manning a fellow gives students the wrong idea, and that it’s “shameful for Harvard to place its stamp of approval upon her treasonous actions.”
On Twitter, Manning responded to the news, writing: "honored to be 1st disinvited trans woman visiting @harvard fellow … they chill marginalized voices under @cia pressure."