Harvard dumps Chelsea Manning as ‘visiting fellow’ after pressure from CIA

She's still invited to speak, but won't be considered a "visiting fellow" like everyone else.

Chelsea Manning posing with a plaque recognizing the Compton's Cafeteria riot of 1966, one of the first LGBT-related riots in U.S. history. CREDIT: Twitter/Chelsea Manning
Chelsea Manning posing with a plaque recognizing the Compton's Cafeteria riot of 1966, one of the first LGBT-related riots in U.S. history. CREDIT: Twitter/Chelsea Manning

Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government has rescinded an invitation to Chelsea Manning to serve as a visiting fellow. The move appears to be in response to pressure from two former CIA directors who withdrew their own commitments to speak at the university over Manning’s invitation.

The Kennedy School extended the invitation to Manning earlier this week, inviting her to campus for a day to discuss “LGBTQ identity in the military.” This prompted former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell to announce that he was resigning — effective immediately — as a non-resident senior fellow at the Kennedy School in protest. He insisted he could not be part of an organization “that honors a convicted felon and leaker of classified information.”

Mike Pompeo, a Harvard Law alum who serves as current director of the CIA, likewise canceled his scheduled speech at Harvard Thursday night. He explained in a letter that “Ms. Manning stands against everything the brave men and women I serve alongside stand for,” adding, “I believe it is shameful for Harvard to place its stamp of approval upon her treasonous actions.” He clarified that it had “nothing to do with Ms. Manning’s identity as a transgender person.”

NBC News reported Friday morning that Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf had rescinded Manning’s invitation to be a visiting fellow — but not the invitation to speak. The bizarre letter explains that “visiting fellow” is simply the term the university uses to describe any guest speaker who stays more than a few hours on campus. He takes time to explain that speakers are invited because they “have significantly influenced events in the world,” even if their values, actions, or words “are abhorrent to some members of our community.”


The wake-up call for Elmendorf was apparently realizing that some people consider “visiting fellow” to be an honorific title and he now feels that the school should weigh “the extent to which that person’s conduct fulfills the values of public service to which we aspire.” In Manning’s case, he believes he got that balance “wrong.” He apologized to Manning and insisted she is still invited to speak on campus; she just won’t be recognized as a “visiting fellow.”

While the illegality of Manning’s leaks to WikiLeaks is undisputed, the virtues of her actions are hotly contested. Many have praised her as an important whistleblower for unveiling certain atrocities the U.S. military had committed, and her actions have been credited for helping to catalyze the Arab Spring. A study ultimately found that her leaks had no significant impact on U.S. war efforts.

Even from prison, she continued to contribute to public political discourse. Her own fight to transition her gender in a military men’s prison helped her discover her voice as an advocate for LGBTQ equality, and she even began writing a column for The Guardian before President Obama commuted her sentence.

Manning has taken Harvard’s decision in stride.

Harvard’s decision to uninvite Manning came just one day after news that top university officials had also overridden a decision to accept Michelle Jones to be a doctoral student in history. Jones spent more than 20 years in prison for the murder of her four-year-old son, but became a published scholar of American history from behind bars in what the Marshall Project described as “a breathtaking feat of rehabilitation.” Jones is now headed to New York University, one of many top schools that recruited her, leaving Elizabeth Hinton, one of the Harvard historians who advocated for her admission, to wonder, “How much do we really believe in the possibility of human redemption?”