A couple days ago, you could have described Harvard University as an institution that “honors a convicted felon.”
That’s how Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA, described Chelsea Manning’s appointment as a visiting fellow.
But “honors a convicted felon” also describes what Harvard did when it admitted former inmate, Michelle Jones, into their Ph.D program.
Can you imagine that? Harvard, which has graduated 8 U.S. presidents, accepted two women who’ve served time.
Maybe those ivy gates can be opened.
Or not—honoring convicted felons was a thing of Harvard, circa 24 hours ago.
And while the rejections of Chelsea Manning and Michelle Jones had the severe PR misfortune of occurring on the same week, we need to understand that they both stem from the same impetus.
Here’s the sad truth of liberal, liberal arts colleges: They’re not that open.
Though outraged moderates and conservatives fill up the airwaves about the latest example of liberal “intolerance” on the university campus (University of California, Berkeley is a frequent target), progressives have to grapple with how far university campuses can be pushed left. If they can even be pushed that far left.
After all, institutions that rely on standardized test scores to see whether you’ll have the honor of paying upwards of $30,000 a year for an education may not be that progressive.
But as nearly all people of import have degrees from places of import, pushing the university system further left is a question of serious political ramification.
It’s in this quagmire of university politics that you have Chelsea Manning and Michelle Jones.
While Harvard’s faculty are allowed to interrogate the U.S. criminal justice system—a draw for Jones, who earned two diplomas behind prison bars—the prospect of admitting a convicted felon was chilling enough for admissions to rescind Jones’ acceptance. An effective re-sentencing for a woman who served her full sentence, says a prosecutor who argued Jones receive the maximum sentence two decades ago.
And while the Kennedy Institute of Politics attempted to “welcome the breadth of thought-provoking viewpoints on race, gender, politics, and the media,” the prospect of having another felon who served her time roam the university campus was too much for some people.
And I do say some deliberately.
When John Stauffer, one of the professors who expressed concern over Jones’ acceptance, speculated, “We knew that anyone could just punch her crime into Google, and Fox News would probably say that P.C. liberal Harvard gave 200 grand of funding to a children murderer, who also happened to be a minority,” he really wasn’t talking about “anyone.”
Anyone can perform a Google search.
But as those familiar with the calculations of the American university system already know, the opinions of the laymen don’t matter.
Michael Morell, former CIA leader, matters.
Mike Pompeo, current CIA director, matters.
And whoever is funding these programs matters, too.
The good news of the Michael Morells and Mike Pompeos of the world mattering is that the liberal elite will force-march the world to creating more tolerant, multicultural spaces.
Cross-cultural collaboration skills can only serve young, rich students in their path towards success in a globalized world. It’s why we occasionally get thought pieces speculating on the benefit white students derive from being near poor students and students of color. And who knows how many native informants CIA spooks can collect out of a multicultural college campus.
But the tolerance of powerful white men only goes so far.
People can be happy as long as Harvard keeps churning out future leaders, in multicolor. Less happy when Harvard churns out future leaders intent on reinvisioning the world.
Which is precisely the PR nightmare Harvard faces.
If it had to choose between Michael Morell over Chelsea Manning, it’ll choose Michael Morell. Even if you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who knew his accomplishments over Chelsea Manning. And if it had to choose between keeping its Fox News cred and Michelle Jones—“one of the strongest candidates in the last year, period”—it’ll choose Fox News.
This isn’t an indication that Harvard is particularly heinous or that far out of step with general U.S. society (though Stauffer is definitely rethinking his Fox News analogy). Regardless of evolving opinions on U.S. actions in the Middle East, Chelsea Manning is regularly branded a traitor. And criminal justice reform, as it exists past niche circles, seems stuck in discussing the cases of people who shouldn’t be in prison, period. Not violent offenders like Michelle Jones.
The Harvard name means something.
It’s been attached to 8 U.S. presidents and 14 billionaires and who knows how many other academics, policy makers, and business leaders.
And it’s also attached to the mediocrity that is the status quo.