Harvard Withdraws Fellowship Invitation to Chelsea Manning After Fierce Backlash

Chelsea Manning posts Instagram Photo at White House / Instagram
Chelsea Manning posts Instagram photo at White House / Instagram
September 15, 2017

The Harvard Kennedy School's Institute of Politics on Friday rescinded its invitation to Chelsea Manning to be a Visiting Fellow for the upcoming academic year, calling the decision a "mistake."

Less than two days after announcing that Manning would join the school and facing subsequent backlash, Dean Douglas Elmendorf released a statement saying he took responsibility for the invitation, which he realized was viewed by many as an "honorific" of sorts.

"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," he wrote. "However, I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility."

"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," he added. "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."

He wrote that engaging with people others may find abhorrent can help Harvard-goers become better public leaders, but he acknowledged the "title of Visiting Fellow implies a certain recognition."

Harvard's invitation of Manning, who was released from military prison this year after serving seven years for leaking classified military documents to WikiLeaks, had prompted swift criticism. Former acting CIA Director Michael Morell resigned his non-resident Senior Fellow position in protest, and current CIA Director Mike Pompeo canceled an appearance at the Kennedy School, calling Manning an "American traitor."

The school promoted her as its "first Transgender fellow" in its initial announcement of its new Fellows, describing her as a "Washington D.C.-based network security expert and former U.S. Army intelligence analyst," as well as a whistleblower.

Manning's 35-year sentence for what has been described as one of the most serious leaks of military information in U.S. history was commuted by President Barack Obama shortly before he left office. Originally PFC Bradley Manning, she transitioned to a woman while in prison and has twice attempted suicide.

She responded to the rescinded invitation on Twitter, writing the "CIA determines what is and is not taught at Harvard." She also criticized the school for inviting former White House press secretary Sean Spicer and Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

Manning often fills her tweets with emojis and the hashtag #WeGotThis.