Metro

Harvard Kennedy School rescinds invite for Chelsea Manning to serve as visiting fellow

Chelsea Manning.
AFP PHOTO/COURTESY OF CHELSEA MANNING
Chelsea Manning.

The Harvard Kennedy School withdrew its invitation for Chelsea Manning to serve as a visiting fellow, just one day after former acting CIA director Michael Morell resigned from his position of senior fellow at the school in protest against Harvard’s decision.

Douglas W. Elmendorf, dean of the Kennedy School, said that designating Manning as a visiting fellow “was a mistake” for which he accepts responsibility, but that Manning is still invited to speak at the Harvard Institute of Politics.

“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,” Elmendorf said in a statement released early Friday morning, just after midnight. “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.”

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Manning is a former Army intelligence analyst who was sentenced to 35 years in prison after providing WikiLeaks with access to classified documents. The sentence was commuted by then-President Barack Obama.

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The Kennedy School added Manning to the school’s 2017-18 list of fellows earlier this week.

The decision faced backlash from other Harvard affiliates, including Morell, who wrote in his resignation letter Thursday that Harvard’s invitation legitimizes the “criminal path” Manning took.

Mike Pompeo, the current CIA director, also canceled his appearance at Harvard Thursday night in response to Harvard’s invitation to Manning.

“My conscience and duty to the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency will not permit me to betray their trust by appearing to support Harvard’s decision with my appearance at tonight’s event,” Pompeo wrote in a letter Thursday.

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Elmendorf confronted allegations that Harvard was legitimizing Manning’s behavior, writing that the school often invites speakers who have influenced world events, even if their values are not shared by those in the Harvard 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,” he wrote. “Because controversy pervades many questions in politics and public policy, some speakers are controversial.”

Elmendorf explained that they named Manning a visiting fellow so interested students could meet with her, ask questions, and “challenge what she has said and done.”

“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.

“This decision now is not intended as a compromise between competing interest groups,” he wrote, “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.”

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Manning responded to Harvard’s decision in a series of tweets early Friday morning, writing that she was “honored to be [the] 1st disinvited trans woman.”

Manning also pointed to Sean Spicer and Corey Lewandowski as people whose appointments as visiting fellows should also be questioned as her own was.

MassEquality, a statewide organization that advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community, also denounced the decision.

“MassEquality finds it shocking and deeply disturbing that Harvard would rescind its invitation to Chelsea Manning,” Deborah Shields, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement.

“It’s especially disappointing that an esteemed university such as Harvard cannot stand up to controversy and stand by vulnerable citizens like Ms Manning, especially when they are standing by Sean Spicer and Corey Lewandowski,” Shields continued. “We hope they will reconsider their decision.”

Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.