Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Turns Down Harvard Fellowship Amid Backlash

Snyder's administration was blamed for the Flint water crisis, but the Kennedy School honored him with a teaching position.

Rick Snyder, the Republican former governor of Michigan whose administration was accused of playing a key role in Flint’s water crisis, has decided to turn down his Harvard Kennedy School fellowship.

Snyder on Wednesday announced on Twitter that he would not be joining the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, where he was set to begin studying and teaching this week.

“It would have been exciting to share my experiences, both positive and negative; our current political environment and its lack of civility makes this too disruptive,” he wrote. “I wish them the best.”

Backlash began brewing on social media over the weekend as users condemned Harvard’s offer with the hashtag #NoSnyderFellowship. Critics urged those opposed to write letters to the school in protest.

A school news release announcing the fellowship left out any mention of Flint’s toxic lead pollution, instead crediting Snyder for “significant expertise in management, public policy, and promoting civility.” 

Later Wednesday, the Harvard Kennedy School sent the following letter to HuffPost, which was shared by Dean Doug Elmendorf with the campus community.

Last Friday, Harvard Kennedy School announced that former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder would become a fellow at the School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government for the fall semester.  Governor Snyder has now withdrawn from the intended fellowship.

The people of Flint, Michigan—and especially low-income Black residents—have suffered acutely because of their poisonous water supply, and I have been deeply moved by the personal and thoughtful messages I have received from people in Flint.  I believe the Kennedy School needs to study both failures and successes of government, and we anticipated that students would have learned from engaging with and questioning Governor Snyder about his consequential role in decisions regarding Flint and many other issues during his eight years in office.  We appreciate Governor Snyder’s interest in participating in such discussions in our community, but we and he now believe that having him on campus would not enhance education here in the ways we intended.

Harvard Kennedy School will continue to look for ways to learn from and address failures of government in Flint and elsewhere.

Reports of Snyder’s fellowship offer arrived only weeks after The Associated Press reported that his cellphone was confiscated in a criminal probe of the catastrophe led by Michigan and Wayne County.

Though the crisis began in 2014, the deadly consequences are still being felt today, and dozens of residents have suffered from an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. According to PBS, the death toll is likely far higher than the 12 counted by state officials.

This article has been updated with a response from the Harvard Kennedy School.