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Snyder withdraws from Harvard fellowship amid Flint backlash

July 3, 2019
FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2018, file photo, former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder delivers his State of the State address at the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich. Snyder says he has turned down a fellowship at Harvard University following social media backlash over his administration's role in the Flint water crisis. He tweeted Wednesday, July 3, 2019, that being a senior research fellow would have been too "disruptive" because of "our current political environment and its lack of civility. (AP Photo/Al Goldis, File)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder withdrew from a senior research fellowship at Harvard University on Wednesday, amid criticism of the Kennedy School of Government for offering him the position despite his administration’s role in the Flint water crisis.

Snyder, who served eight years and was term-limited from office in December, tweeted that he turned down the appointment at the school’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government, five days after the university announced it.

“It would have been exciting to share my experiences, both positive and negative,” said Snyder, who was planning to teach classes, speak at public events and hold office hours with students this fall. “Our current political environment and its lack of civility makes this too disruptive. I wish them the best.”

Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf, who faced backlash in recent days, sent an email to faculty, staff and students. He said the people of Flint, particularly low-income black residents, “suffered acutely because of their poisonous water supply,” and that he was “deeply moved” by their feedback.

“I believe the Kennedy School needs to study both failures and successes of government, 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 wrote. “We appreciate Governor Snyder’s interest in participating in such discussions in our community, but we and he now believe that having him on campus would not enhance education here in the ways we intended.”

Snyder has repeatedly apologized for Flint disaster, calling it a failure at all levels of government.

The cash-strapped city of 100,000 people was under the supervision of a financial manager appointed by Snyder, a Republican, when it stopped buying treated water from Detroit and began drawing from the Flint River in 2014. The move was intended to save money while a new pipeline from Lake Huron was built.

Investigators determined that state environmental regulators misread federal guidelines and did not require the use of corrosion-control additives. The river water gnawed away lead from pipes, joints and fixtures that contaminated drinking water in the majority-black community. In 2015, local children were found to have elevated levels of the toxin in their blood.

The switch also has been linked to a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.

Snyder appointed emergency managers who made key decisions that led to and prolonged the crisis . He also hired the directors of three state departments that bear differing degrees of responsibility, according to a task force he created to investigate the disaster.

Snyder’s critics welcomed his decision to not pursue the fellowship.

“The backlash Snyder and Harvard faced over the fellowship wasn’t a ‘lack of civility’ — it was people speaking truth to power and holding Snyder accountable for the myriad problems he and his corporate donors created for Michigan and communities across this state,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of the liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan. Adam Joseph, a Harvard graduate who worked on a Democrat Abdul El-Sayed’s unsuccessful 2018 gubernatorial campaign, said “it’s good to see that the implications of the crimes committed against Flint residents are being acknowledged.”

Harvard’s announcement last Friday focused on Snyder’s work leading Detroit through the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, expanding workforce training, boosting infrastructure spending, addressing the state’s finances and pension system, and allowing self-driving cars on Michigan roads.

Snyder, a former venture capitalist and computer company executive, has bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees from the University of Michigan.

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