Activists Demand Harvard Rescind Fellowship for Former Michigan Governor

Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government is facing backlash on social media after announcing former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was chosen as a senior research fellow. Activists have launched an email campaign and an online petition to express outrage over the appointment.“Governor Snyder brings his significant expertise in management, public policy, and promoting civility to Harvard Kennedy School,” Jeffrey Liebman, director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, said in a statement. “We are excited that he will be joining the Taubman Center and confident that he will bring tremendous value to us and our students.”

However, critics pointed to Snyder’s role in the Flint Water Crisis as a reason not to give him the fellowship. Snyder was responsible for appointing the state officials who switched Flint’s water source to a polluted one as a cost-saving measure in 2014, Talking Points Memo (TPM) reported. In 2016, Snyder apologized for the crisis and blamed it partly on state bureaucrats.

The former Republican governor is named in a civil lawsuit that claimed Snyder and his administration attempted to cover up their role in the water crisis.

Prosecutors seized Snyder’s mobile devices in June, TPM reported.Activists, including organizer Mariame Kaba, voiced their opposition by launching an email campaign aimed at Liebman and by using the hashtag #NoSnyderFellowship on Twitter. The email and hashtag campaign has garnered the support of author Piper Kerman, Flint activist Mari Copeny, and the magazine Current Affairs, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Copeny, the Flint 11-year-old known as Little Miss Flint, became an advocate for her home town after the city’s drinking water was contaminated with lead when the water source was switched to the Flint River. She tweeted that Snyder belongs in jail for “poisoning Flint” instead of at Harvard. “Harvard has to be smarter than this,” she added.“I sent a short email to Professor Liebman… & it took only a few minutes to tell him why @Kennedy_School awarding a fellowship to former #Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is an affront #FlintWaterCrisis #NoSnyderFellowship,” Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black, tweeted.

Current Affairs, meanwhile, took aim at another Harvard controversy. This one involved Kyle Kashuv, a pro-gun survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student in Parkland, Florida. “Does Harvard know it does not have to pick up a governor snyder for every kyle kashuv it drops,” the magazine tweeted. Kashuv had his admissions acceptance to Harvard rescinded when his racist and anti-Semitic text messages resurfaced.Several Harvard PhD candidates also voiced their outrage about the appointment. “I’m appalled that @Harvard appointed Rick Snyder to be able to benefit from the resources and reputation of @Harvard when the people of Flint are robbed of their health and dignity,” tweeted Harvard PhD candidate Shom Mazumder.

Harvard’s Kennedy School and Liebman did not immediately respond to The North Star’s requests for comment. However, Liebman responded to some activists and said the school does "not endorse the words or deeds of our fellows, although we recognize that many people perceive a 'Fellow' title as conveying honor or recognition." He noted that people within and outside of the school sometimes disagree as to whether a fellow has fulfilled certain public values they consider important.

"When Governor Snyder is here, he will undoubtedly face hard questions from students and others about his actions and inactions regarding the situation in Flint, and about many other aspects of his long governorship of Michigan," he added.

In its statement announcing Snyder’s appointment, the school commended the former governor for helping lead Detroit “through the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history,” expanding the state’s workforce training and STEM education programs, and investing in infrastructure. No reference was made to the Flint Water Crisis. “It is an honor to become a senior fellow at the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at the Harvard Kennedy School,” Snyder said in a statement released by Harvard.“I’m excited to join the talented faculty and staff there who are on the leading edge in improving public policy, civic engagement, and innovations in state and local government,” he continued. “I look forward to sharing my experiences in helping take Michigan to national leadership in job creation, improved government performance, and civility.”

Snyder has not commented on the backlash to his fellowship.In June, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against government officials in the Flint Water Crisis. Prosecutors promised to relaunch the investigation into the scandal and noted that “the voluntary dismissal is not a determination of any defendant’s criminal responsibility,” CNN reported.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.