Former Michigan Governor withdraws from Harvard post over Flint uproar

Snyder, a Republican who was governor from 2011-19, cited the current political climate in announcing that he had declined the opportunity.

Former Michigan Governor withdraws from Harvard post over Flint uproar

The choice of Snyder as a fellow by the prestigious school of government inflamed Snyder’s critics after it was announced Friday, and nearly 7,000 people had signed an online petition since Monday, the day the yearlong fellowship was to have begun.

Opponents in Michigan as well as those in the Harvard community said he deserved much of the blame for the environmental emergency in Flint, Michigan, which the city has been dealing with since 2014. Snyder told a congressional panel in 2016 that “we all failed the families of Flint.”

Snyder, a Republican who was governor from 2011-19, cited the current political climate in announcing that he had declined the opportunity.

“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,” Snyder wrote on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon. “I wish them the best.”

This is not the first time the Cambridge, Massachusetts, institution had faced backlash for a fellowship offer. Progressive groups had urged Harvard to drop Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary for President Donald Trump, as a visiting fellow in 2017 and 2018. He went through with the fellowship.

The university said the decision for Snyder to back out of the fellowship was a mutual one.

“The people of Flint, Michigan — and especially low-income black residents — have suffered acutely because of their poisonous water supply, and I have been deeply moved by the personal and thoughtful messages I have received from people in Flint,” Douglas Elmendorf, the Harvard Kennedy School dean, wrote in an email Wednesday to students, faculty and staff members.

“We appreciate Governor Snyder’s interest in participating in such discussions in our community,” he continued, “but we and he now believe that having him on campus would not enhance education here in the ways we intended.”

Snyder declined further comment through a spokesman. Harvard did not respond to requests for comment.

Tiffani Ashley Bell, the founder of the Human Utility, a nonprofit organization that uses crowdsourcing funds to help low-income residents in Michigan and Maryland pay their water bills, started the online petition. In 2017, she served as a technology and democracy fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“It would have been another slap in the face to the people of Flint,” if Snyder had taken the fellowship, Bell said Wednesday. “The Harvard community deserves better.”

Snyder would have been a senior research fellow at the school’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government.

In Michigan, state and city officials made an ill-fated decision in 2013 to change the source of Flint’s water supply to the Flint River. Twice in 2014, the city announced that coliform bacteria had been detected in the water, requiring residents to boil their water before consumption. The state environmental agency had recommended flushing out the system and adding more chlorine to the water to address the problem.

In early 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned its state counterpart that it had discovered dangerous levels of lead in the water of a Flint home. The City Council then voted overwhelmingly to return to the city’s original water supply, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, but was overruled by a state emergency manager appointed by Snyder.

“The Flint water crisis is the biggest stain on Rick Snyder’s legacy, and rightfully so,” said Sam Inglot, the deputy director of Progress Michigan, a liberal advocacy group that had objected to Harvard’s fellowship offer to Snyder. “He created the problem through his emergency manager laws. It’s still a problem today. So he didn’t even fix it.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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