“We and he now believe that having him on campus would not enhance education here in the ways we intended,” he wrote.
Snyder, whose name and administration have become synonymous with the Flint water crisis, announced his decision to decline the invitation on Twitter, stating that the fellowship would have been too “disruptive” because of “our current political environment and its lack of civility.”
I have informed the HKennedy Sch that I am turning down its offer as Snr Res Fellow. 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. I wish them the best.— Rick Snyder (@onetoughnerd) July 3, 2019
As the governor of Michigan, Snyder was held largely responsible for the decisions of his staff and state departments when they chose to serve the city of Flint water from the Flint River — rather than a cleaner source, such as Lake Huron — because it was less expensive. The lead-filled water coming out of the taps in Flint was so corrosive, the General Motors assembly plant stopped using it because it was damaging engine parts.
But that was the water that families drank and bathed in for more than a year, from April 2014 to October 2015. Lead content in residential homes ran 40 percent higher than what was considered “safe,” which, according to the World Health Organization, is zero. Physicians reported that the children of Flint had elevated levels of lead in their blood, the effects of which can be permanent; children poisoned with lead can develop mental illness and behavioral disorders. At the highest levels of poisoning, lead can cause coma or death.
Throughout the crisis, officials declined the city’s requests — and overrode votes — to get the water from a cleaner source. Emails from the governor’s office suggest Snyder knew about the danger in January 2015. A class-action lawsuit alleged that state and local officials knew of the danger throughout the crisis.
In an announcement Friday, the Harvard Kennedy School had named Snyder as a senior fellow at its Taubman Center for State and Local Government.
Jeffrey Liebman, director of the Taubman Center, applauded Snyder’s appointment, which he expected would bring “tremendous value to us and our students,” the Hill reported.
Within days of the announcement, people unaffiliated with Harvard were protesting the decision on social media, including Piper Kerman, author of “Orange is the New Black,” and 11-year-old Flint activist Mari Copeny, known as “Little Miss Flint,” according to the Detroit Free Press.
University students and faculty members criticized the choice, as well.
The decision follows the reversal of other fellowship offers in recent years. In 2017, the school rescinded a visiting fellowship offered to former military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning after protests from then-CIA director Mike Pompeo and others, and student outrage led to former Trump White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s fellowship being stripped later that year.
The Snyder controversy comes a month after Harvard College announced it would not renew the appointment of Ronald Sullivan, one of the lawyers representing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, as faculty dean of an undergraduate residential house.