Harvard petition demands scrutiny of ex-Trump officials

Harvard petition demands scrutiny of ex-Trump officials

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A petition circulating at Harvard University demands new accountability standards for former Trump administration officials who seek to work or speak on campus, an idea that has drawn outrage from prominent conservatives

By COLLIN BINKLEY AP Education Writer

November 20, 2020, 9:17 PM

• 3 min read

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BOSTON -- A petition circulating at Harvard University demands new accountability standards for former Trump administration officials who seek to work or speak on campus, an idea that has drawn outrage from prominent conservatives.

The online open letter calls for a new “system of accountability” to review top political appointees who served under Republican President Donald Trump and could come to campus as professors, fellows or speakers after Trump leaves office.

Those who failed to uphold traditional democratic principals should be disqualified, the petition says.

“A complete disregard for the truth is a defining feature of many decisions made by this administration,” according to the petition. “That alone should be enough to draw a line.”

It was unclear who created the petition or how many students have signed it. Harvard declined to comment on it.

Harvard and its Kennedy School of Government often hire outgoing politicians and political staffers to teach as professors or temporary fellows. The university has welcomed figures from both Democratic and Republican administrations in the past.

The school's Institute of Politics fellowships have attracted figures including Reince Priebus, Trump's former chief of staff, and Sarah Hurwitz, the former chief speechwriter for former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Harvard has faced blowback over some past fellows, including its selection of former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer in 2017. The decision drew opposition from more than 1,000 alumni who petitioned against it, but Spicer was allowed to serve as a fellow.

The new petition argues that Trump officials deserves more scrutiny than those tied to past presidents. It says Trump has trampled democratic norms, and that those who were complicit “have disqualified themselves from being hired by the school as faculty or fellows.”

Prominent Republicans blasted the petition as an attack on free speech and open discourse. Alan Dershowitz, a retired Harvard law professor who represented Trump in his impeachment trial, said he would offer free legal help to anyone who would be excluded by new policies.

“Will I be banned from speaking at Harvard?” Dershowitz asked on Twitter.

Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary and a Harvard Law School graduate, urged Harvard to reject the petition.

“I will happily walk back on campus and challenge this,” she told Fox Business. “Censorship should not be tolerated. Our academic communities should be bastions of free speech.”

The Harvard Graduate Students Union, which represents campus graduate workers, said it supports calls to block Trump officials.

Marisa Borreggine, the union's vice president, said it would be disappointing if Harvard hired former officials from a “blatantly anti-democratic, anti-science, and anti-labor administration.”

The petition at Harvard began circulating weeks after a University of Massachusetts professor tweeted that faculty at prestigious universities should oppose the hiring of Trump officials.

Paul Musgrave, who teaches political science at UMass-Amherst, is calling on schools not to hire Trump's high-level appointees as members of their faculty. Welcoming them, he said, would be a betrayal of the same values universities traditionally espouse.

“This is an abnormal administration that has been hostile to science, to universities, to immigrants,” Musgrave said in an interview. “This is not an administration whose officers can be treated normally.”

The Harvard petition goes further in demanding additional scrutiny of speakers and fellows, not just faculty. Before bringing speakers, it says, Harvard should vet speakers to determine their role in undermining democratic institutions.

Harvard has a duty to “boldly confront” those who were complicit, it says, “or not invite them to speak at all.”

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