Ex-Michigan governor withdraws from Harvard fellowship after backlash

Posted at 2:06 PM, Jul 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-03 16:06:23-04

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder turned down an offer to become a Harvard senior research fellow on Wednesday following significant backlash stemming from his role in the Flint water crisis.

Snyder announced his decision on Twitter, saying his choice was based on the negative reactions following the news of his appointment last week.

“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 tweeted. “I wish them the best.”

Snyder’s Harvard appointment sparked furor in Michigan among Democrats and progressive activists who point the finger at him for allowing the water crisis to take place.

Snyder has been criticized for his implementation of an emergency management law in 2011 that was used to address Flint’s projected $25 million deficit. The law essentially turned over control of the city to an emergency manager and it was an emergency manager who, in 2014, decided to switch the city’s water source to the Flint River while building a new pipeline from Lake Huron in order to save the city money.

A state report from March 2016 found that “ultimate accountability for Michigan executive branch decisions rests with the Governor” but Snyder’s decision-making was “compromised” by information given by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Snyder, a Republican, served as governor of the state from 2011 until January 1, when Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was sworn in. He has not been charged related to the crisis. Some of his materials from his time as governor — such as his phone, hard drive, iPad — were seized by state investigators last month.

Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government announced Snyder’s decision to the student body in a school-wide email. The statement, sent by Professor Doug Elmendorf, offered an explanation behind the initial hiring decision.

“I believe the Kennedy School needs to study both failures and successes of government,” Elmendorf said. “And we anticipated that students would have learned from engaging with and questioning Governor Snyder about his consequential role in decisions regarding Flint and many other issues during his eight years in office.”

Elmendorf acknowledged the suffering that the “people of Flint, Michigan — and especially low-income Black residents” have experienced, and said that “having (Snyder) on campus would not enhance education here in the ways we intended.”