Members of the Harvard faculty are demanding that the school reverse its decision to refuse admission to convicted child murderer Michelle Jones and to rescind a fellowship offer extended to Chelsea Manning. So far 156 members of the faculty have signed a letter expressing their displeasure with those decisions. From the Harvard Crimson:
From what we have been able to glean from the public record, the decisions in these cases have been made not by following standardized procedure, but by reacting in an ad hoc manner to a climate of anxiety and intimidation. With Michelle Jones, the administration took the highly unusual step of overturning the History Department’s decision to admit Jones to its doctoral program. In doing so, it not only violated departmental autonomy in evaluating and admitting students, it disregarded the labor and expertise of its faculty. Faculty of Arts and Sciences administrators appear to have arrived at this decision not because they questioned the Department’s judgment of Jones’s scholarly merits, but out of concern over a potential backlash for admitting a formerly incarcerated student to the University. This comes at a time when mass incarceration and criminal justice reform are of utmost scholarly importance in a number of academic disciplines, including history.
The public record, in this case, is a glowing story written by advocacy group the Marshall Project and published by the NY Times. That story gave very short shrift to the shocking crime for which Jones was convicted to 50 years in prison: The beating and abandonment of her own 4-year-old son so she could attend a “theater network conference” with a friend. When she returned from the conference, her son was dead. She then buried his body and, to this day, has never revealed where his remains are located. She later used the fact that her son’s body had not been found in an attempt to appeal her conviction. Despite all this, the letter from Harvard faculty warns against buying into “a misguided and moralistic notion of indelible stigma.” In short, she may have murdered a helpless child but, hey, let’s not get judgmental about it.
The faculty are also upset that convicted leaker Chelsea Manning’s offer to appear at the school was rescinded:
In the case of Chelsea Manning, there was more overt intimidation by the federal government. Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo cancelled an appearance at Harvard and former deputy director Mike Morell resigned his own visiting fellowship, both in protest at what the two men described as the honoring of a “traitor.” The same day, Dean of the Kennedy School Douglas W. Elmendorf rescinded Manning’s offer while retaining former Trump administration press secretary Sean Spicer, notorious for his mendacity and attacks on the press, and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, captured on film assaulting a female reporter, as visiting fellows.
The idea that Chelsea Manning’s conviction is on par with what Corey Lewandowski did is absolute lunacy, and I say that as someone who supported Michelle Fields and considers Lewandowski a goon. Lewandowski was charged with battery and the charge was later dropped. Do these professors really think that is comparable to the murder of a child for which a woman was convicted? In fact, it seems the Harvard faculty who signed this letter don’t believe the school should take the word of prosecutors at all, even when it was followed by a conviction:
Each of these cases posed the question of how to address the lasting stigma following Jones and Manning due to their convictions on charges of murder and espionage, respectively. In each case, the administration appears to have allowed the fear of public opinion and political interference to determine its actions. But we are educators committed to the open, critical exchange of ideas. Rather than allowing these women to come to campus and speak for themselves, the administration accepted as true the account of events provided by the prosecuting attorneys and acted at their behest.
This raises all sorts of questions. Are these faculty members suggesting Michelle Jones might not be a murderer and Chelsea Manning might not have intentionally passed government secrets to Wikileaks? On what basis are they claiming that? Does the fact the Manning pleaded guilty to many of the charges matter?
I think what’s really going on here is that, for these far left professors, Jones and Manning are symbols of the groups they represent. Refusing to give them space at Harvard is thus an offense against those groups, i.e. trans women, black victims of mass incarceration. I don’t think you’d see the same response from Harvard faculty if the school was inviting a white supremacist who had been convicted of murdering a child. In that case, I suspect the message would be very different, i.e. Why are we giving this person space on our prestigious stage to deny or downplay their crimes? It’s a good question.