As alumni of Harvard, it is with disappointment and shame that we read the news that Corey Lewandowski and Sean Spicer would both be serving as visiting fellows at the Harvard Institute of Politics during the upcoming academic year. The stated mission of the IOP is to “unite and engage students, particularly undergraduates, with academics, politicians, activists, and policymakers on a non-partisan basis,” and it is incumbent upon the IOP to hew to values that are also non-partisan. These hiring decisions betray those values. While representing a spectrum of ideas is important for a complete political education, the IOP must acknowledge its own power in conveying an imprimatur of intellectual and moral legitimacy – in this case, to those who have done much to degrade public discourse in this country, re-ignite white nationalism, and further reactionary policies that harm millions.
Sean Spicer served as the mouthpiece for an administration that runs counter to the values Harvard purports to embody. What can undergraduates learn from a man whose brief tenure in national communications began with an unabashed lie about crowd sizes, continued with an ignorant minimization of the Holocaust, dabbled in unvarnished hostility to the free press, and ended in public ignominy? The IOP focuses on undergraduates: is the lesson we wish to impart to young students that Harvard will embrace you with open arms and confer unearned legitimacy to you, regardless of the untruths you sell and the moral turpitude you embody, as long as you have been in proximity to power?
Corey Lewandowski, who managed a campaign that began with racist provocation and continued with rampant misogyny, was ousted from the Trump orbit after assaulting a female reporter, and has supplemented his notoriety with ignorant fulminations on national newscasts; he has also been accused of threatening his New Jersey neighbors with a baseball bat. What could this man offer that would be worth exchanging for the safety of student journalists and the greater Harvard community? What message does this send to students who embrace the dream of contributing to the free American press?
In her recent letter to the Harvard community on the announcement of the rescinding of DACA, President Faust touted Harvard’s commitment to “inclusion and to the promise of creative minds” and to “equality and opportunity.” To those of us who have watched this administration unfold with horror, knowing the harm it daily inflicts to the values of inclusion and equality, it is a mark of shame that the University we call our alma mater seems unable to recognize its own considerable power in furthering the destructive influence of this administration on American ideals, discourse, and civil society. To pretend neutrality and balance by granting a platform to those who have advocated harm and imbalance is to confer legitimacy to that which is morally illegitimate; it also betrays the insincerity of President Faust’s assurances that she will protect all members of the Harvard community, including religious and ethnic minorities and female students of all groups, when one of its highest-profile institutions extends a warm invitation to those who have willfully furthered the interests of misogyny and white supremacy.
We recognize the importance of representing a broad slate of different ideologies in the education of Harvard undergraduates. But there are many who advance conservative ideals, and can enlighten students about America’s geographic and ideological diversity, without serving as mouthpieces for the worst our country has to offer. If we wish to represent the interests of those outside our secular, Northeastern, urbanite bubble, why not extend an invitation to any of the hundreds of religious, Southern, Western or rural leaders across the country who are working to protect those under threat from the de facto ethnic cleansing advanced by Lewandowski's and Spicer's former employer? Religious minorities, black and Hispanic communities, and victims of sexual assault have not forgotten that Lewandowski and Spicer advanced the cause of a man who wants to add religious tests to citizenship, has demonized and scapegoated immigrants, and bragged about grabbing unsuspecting women "by the pussy." Harvard should not forget either.
We urge you to rescind these invitations immediately, and instead provide undergraduates with a chance to have their minds and hearts broadened by exposure to genuinely new and enriching ideas.