I’ll try to make this post short, as I’m resting in my hotel in Warsaw and want to catch up on the news from London. But I couldn’t resist, thanks to several readers (special h/t to Scott), calling attention to two questionable acts that my Ph.D. alma mater has committed.
The first involves the New York Times story below (click on screenshot):
Ms. Jones was convicted for killing, via neglect, her 4-year-old son (the details are unclear; the body was never found, and Jones herself was subject to childhood abuse). She served 20 years in an Indiana prison for her crime;.she was sentenced to 50 years but was released way early because of her exceptional behavior and accomplishments. While incarcerated, she turned herself into a history scholar and somewhat of a polymath; as the Times reports, she earned her bachelor’s degree at Ball State and audited class at Indiana University. And she went further:
In a breathtaking feat of rehabilitation, Ms. Jones, now 45, became a published scholar of American history while behind bars, and presented her work by videoconference to historians’ conclaves and the Indiana General Assembly. With no internet access and a prison library that hewed toward romance novels, she led a team of inmates that pored through reams of photocopied documents from the Indiana State Archives to produce the Indiana Historical Society’s best research project last year. As prisoner No. 970554, Ms. Jones also wrote several dance compositions and historical plays, one of which is slated to open at an Indianapolis theater in December.
She applied to several graduate schools, and got into Harvard and New York University (as well as other schools, though not Yale). Her reviews by Harvard’s history department were stellar (“Elizabeth Hinton, one of the Harvard historians who backed Ms. Jones, called her ‘one of the strongest candidates in the country last year, period'”). But in a highly unusual move, Harvard administrators rescinded Jones’s acceptance, denying her the chance to go to her first-choice school. Jones will enroll in New York University this fall.
The reasons why Harvard’s administrators rescinded the deparmental admission aren’t clear. There was some mention in the article that Jones wasn’t completely forthcoming about her crime, but the article also says she admitted what she did and noted that she inflicted on her son the abuse she got herself. If she lied, that’s grounds for rejection, but that doesn’t seem clear.
Rather, there appear to be other reasons for rejecting her—ones that I don’t like (these came from emails and memos obtained by the NYT):
While top Harvard officials typically rubber-stamp departmental admissions decisions, in this case the university’s leadership — including the president, provost, and deans of the graduate school — reversed one, according to the emails and interviews, out of concern that her background would cause a backlash among rejected applicants, conservative news outlets or parents of students.
That’s ridiculous. Jones did her time for the crime, and why should she be shunned further, especially after such an arduous effort to turn her life around? She deserves the same chance as anyone else gets, and that includes the admission to Harvard that she earned. If people are concerned about her background, they should suck that up. Someone deemed rehabilitated should not be made to suffer further.
“We didn’t have some preconceived idea about crucifying Michelle,” said John Stauffer, one of the two American studies professors [two professors flagged her acceptance for the higher administration]. “But frankly, 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 child murderer, who also happened to be a minority. I mean, c’mon.”
WHAT? Why should Harvard worry about what Fox News will say? Shouldn’t they be confident that “P.C. liberal Harvard” did the right thing by giving someone who behaved odiously a second chance after she turned her life around? The paragraph above sickens me.
Finally, things get patronizing and maybe a bit racist:
She applied to eight [graduate schools], with Harvard her first choice because of historians there whose work on incarceration she admired.
While those historians embraced her application, others at Harvard questioned not only whether Ms. Jones had disclosed enough information about her past, but whether she could handle its pressure-cooker atmosphere.
“One of our considerations,” Professor Stauffer said in an interview, “was if this candidate is admitted to Harvard, where everyone is an elite among elites, that adjustment could be too much.”
Oh for crying out loud! If the department not only deemed her qualified, but judged her one of the top candidates in the whole country, where did the fear come from that she couldn’t “handle its pressure-cooker atmosphere?” Could it be because she was in prison, or maybe because she was black? If she’s qualified, she’s qualified, and should get the chance to handle the “atmosphere” (which, having gone there, I don’t see as a “pressure cooker”. You take few classes and your main responsibility is your thesis).
For a determinist, there are three reasons to send someone to jail who’s committed a crime: rehabilitation, deterrence of others, and sequestering a criminal from society so she doesn’t do further harm.) The justice system decided that Ms. Jones has satisfied all of these requirements. Why would Harvard continue to punish her when she’s shown contrition (she’s dedicating her graduate work in criminology to her son), she’s clearly rehabilitated, and 20 years is sufficient deterrence? Even the prosecutor who sought and got Jones the maximum sentence thinks that Harvard is behaving badly:
“Look, as a mother, I thought it was just an awful crime,” said Ms. Marger Moore, now a lawyer at a large firm in Los Angeles. “But what Harvard did is highly inappropriate: I’m the prosecutor, not them. Michelle Jones served her time, and she served a long time, exactly what she deserved. A sentence is a sentence.”
I wish Jones the best of luck, and I send raspberries to Harvard for their bad behavior. Unless Jones flat-out lied on her application, and I am dubious about that, she fully deserves admission to Harvard’s graduate program in history.
In a second bad move, Harvard has bowed to government pressure and deplatformed Chelsea Manning, withdrawing her invitations to be a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. As you may know, Manning was convicted of espionage for releasing classified documents to WikiLeaks; she was sentenced to 35 years in prison but Obama commuted her sentence after four years. She is now free. But some bigwigs objected to her status of visiting fellow at Harvard:
The school withdrew the invitation to Manning—a transgender activist and former U.S. Army soldier who was imprisoned after disclosing over 700,000 classified government documents— after CIA Director Mike Pompeo cancelled his scheduled appearance at the school Thursday.
“Ms. Manning betrayed her country and was found guilty of 17 serious crimes for leaking classified information to Wikileaks,” Pompeo wrote in a letter to Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, director of Intelligence and Defense Projects at Harvard Kennedy School on Thursday. “Indeed, Ms. Manning stands against everything the brave men and women I serve alongside stand for.”
Pompeo’s cancelled appearance came hours after Michael Morell, a former deputy director of the CIA, resigned from his Senior Fellowship at the Belfer Center at Harvard Kennedy School. In his resignation letter, Morell cited deep opposition to Manning’s actions, and wrote that “the Kennedy School’s decision will assist Ms. Manning in her long-standing effort to legitimize the criminal path that she took to prominence.”
After the twin denouncements, Elmendorf withdrew the invitation that had been issued on Wednesday.
“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,” Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf wrote.
Dean Elmendorf added this:
“I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility,” Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf wrote in a statement posted to the school’s website shortly after midnight.
Well, opinions differ on the rectitude of what Manning did, and her punishment was surely overly severe, but once she was invited to be a visiting fellow, it was wrong of Harvard to withdraw that invitation. While Manning is still invited to give a speech at Harvard, the fellowship withdrawal stinks, for it smacks of government interference in an academic decision, and of cowardice on the part of Harvard.