Back on September 15th I wrote a lengthy comment on The New York Times story on Michelle Jones. She’s the former prisoner who spent twenty years in prison for murdering her son and is beginning a PhD program at NYU. The Times story was about her rejection from the history PhD program at Harvard. In the original Times story and in my post responding to it, John Stauffer, a Professor at Harvard, played a leading role.
Stauffer has submitted the following letter to clarify his position. I’m publishing it in full.
In his article, “From Prison to Ph.D.,” published last week in the New York Times, Eli Hager argued that Harvard University did not give Michelle Jones a fair review, owing to her criminal record.
Hager writes for the Marshall Project, an advocacy group that seeks to “create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system,” according to its website.
In developing his argument, Hager said that “top Harvard officials” rejected Jones’s admission “out of concern that her background would cause a backlash among rejected applicants, conservative news outlets, or parents of students.”
This is simply wrong. It misrepresents what I emphasized in my interview, which was the widespread support, including my own, for Jones’s admission, despite potential backlash.
Hager further suggested that the memo my colleague, Daniel Carpenter, and I circulated was a highly unusual procedure. In fact it was standard procedure. In the past fifteen years, I have regularly contacted deans over questions I’ve had in admissions cases, and their feedback has been invaluable. In Jones’s case, while Professor Carpenter and I continued to support her admission, we noted some discrepancies that merited additional investigation.
Unlike Chelsea Manning, whose visiting fellowship was rescinded, Michelle Jones never received an admissions offer from Harvard. Jones’s case became front-page news only because the Marshall Project, which encourages leaks, received some, and then both selected and distorted facts, apparently in the service of its advocacy goal.
John Stauffer, Sumner R. and Marshall S. Kates Professor of English and of African and African American Studies, Harvard University