Harvard Faces Backlash for Hiring Calderón

By McCarton Ackerman 01/22/13

The ex-Mexican president's bloody drug war legacy sparks protests over his new teaching position.

Harvard's controversial new teaching fellow.
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Harvard's decision to hire former Mexican President Felipe Calderón has led to protests on both sides of the border. In anticipation of the controversial politician's one-year teaching appointment at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, petition website Change.Org has already collected nearly 33,000 signatures in opposition. Mexican political activist and poet Javier Sicilia has also sent a letter to the university, calling the former president’s appointment an affront to the victims of the bloodshed in Mexico. "We believe...that the appointment of President Calderón as a visiting fellow at the Kennedy school, is an insult to the victims of violence in Mexico," he wrote in a joint letter with Mexican academic Sergio Aguayo. The Kennedy School has defended their decision by arguing that an educational institution needs to welcome varying perspectives even if they generate controversy. “The unique opportunity to engage in direct discussion with a former head of state is one that many of our students value greatly, even if they may disagree with some of that leader’s policy positions,” says Kennedy School dean David Ellwood. During Calderón's six years in office, an estimated 70,000 people died due to drug war related violence within Mexico, while the amount of murders and violent crimes in the country also rose drastically. However, many academics believe that politicians with controversial legacies may offer a unique and beneficial learning experience for students. “[Calderon] managed the drug war poorly," says George Grayson, a government professor at The College of William & Mary, "but that is a subject he can discuss with students at Harvard."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.