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'Slap in the Face to the People of Flint' as Former Mich. Gov. Snyder Appointed to Harvard Fellowship

"His policies through pushing an emergency manager law led to one of the largest examples of environmental racism in this country's history. The crisis continues to this day."

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) testifies on the tainted water scandal in the city of Flint, Michigan, during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 17, 2016.

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) testifies on the tainted water scandal in the city of Flint, Michigan, during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 17, 2016. (Photo Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

A fellowship at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government for former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder sparked outrage over the weekend, though the school seemed set on keeping the disgraced former executive, who was partially responsible for the Flint water crisis, in the school even in the face of an email campaign demanding his ouster. 

"Snyder oversaw the poisoning of thousands of people in Flint."
—Mariame Kaba

The appointment to the school of Snyder, a Republican, which begins today, was first announced Friday. By Sunday, as news of the fellowship spread, Flint advocates and environmental activists expressed outrage over the appointment, especially given Snyder's role in the Flint crisis. 

In a statement, Food and Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter said Snyder's appointment was "a slap in the face to the people of Flint by one of the most elite institutions in America."

"Snyder is a leader, alright," said Hauter, "he led Flint straight into one of the nation's most notorious disasters in recent memory. His appointment of an emergency manager set the stage for the lead and bacterial contamination that resulted in unnecessary deaths and the lead poisoning of children. The timeline of events shows that his administration knew more about the events early on than what they disclosed to the public. This is criminal, and he must be held accountable."

Activist Mariame Kaba told Common Dreams that she was "appalled" to learn about the appointment given that "Snyder oversaw the poisoning of thousands of people in Flint."

"His policies through pushing an emergency manager law led to one of the largest examples of environmental racism in this country's history," said Kaba. "The crisis continues to this day."

The decision was "disgusting," tweeted activist Jordan Uhl, who shared a brief video detailing Snyder's involvement in the water crisis. 

In a statement, Snyder praised the school and welcomed the opportunity at Harvard. He did not mention his role in the Flint crisis.

"Shame on Harvard for giving this failed Governor a national platform and calling it leadership."
—Wenonah Hauter

"I'm excited to join the talented faculty and staff there who are on the leading edge in improving public policy, civic engagement, and innovations in state and local government," said Snyder. "I look forward to sharing my experiences in helping take Michigan to national leadership in job creation, improved government performance, and civility."

Kaba, in her comments to Common Dreams, said she was floored that Harvard would reward Snyder after his role in the Flint "travesty."

"Snyder hasn't taken accountability for the harm that he caused," said Kaba. "What a complete and utter insult to the people of Flint!"

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"The Kennedy School needs to rescind this fellowship immediately and apologize to the people who were poisoned in Flint for their callousness and their insult," Kaba added.

Food and Water Watch's Hauter agreed. 

"Shame on Harvard for giving this failed Governor a national platform and calling it leadership," said Hauter. "While Flint waits for justice, Harvard is rubbing salt in a fresh wound."

A number of people concerned about the appointment began an email campaign on Sunday aimed at professor Jeffrey Liebman, director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at the Kennedy School at Harvard, where Snyder will be working, asking that the fellowship be rescinded. 

A template to help in writing the email was posted online.

The draft letter says that "Snyder's biggest achievement during his administration was not expanding Michigan's workforce, or backing self driving car legislation," but rather his involvement in poisoning Flint's water. 

On your own website, it is written that the Harvard Kennedy School believes "that smart public policy and inspired public leadership can make people's lives safer, freer, and more prosperous." The decisions that Snyder made in office were nothing short of racism, classism, and a complete disposal of those with less privilege than his own. He has refused to take any responsibility for his egregious and violent actions. If Harvard is holding true to your mission of smart public policy and making people's lives safer, Snyder has no place there.

On Monday, Liebman wrote back to at least some of the critics, claiming that Snyder "will undoubtedly face hard questions from students and others about his actions and inactions regarding the situation in Flint." 

Journalist Talia Lavin, however, was not convinced of that assertion. 

"I was a Harvard student once," tweeted Lavin. "He will not."

Flint has not had clean water for 1,897 days.

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