I have few answers, only questions and observations, regarding this story.
Michelle Jones, a Ph.D. candidate at N.Y.U., was released from prison in August after serving 20 years in an Indiana prison for the murder of her 4-year-old son. She very nearly was accepted into Harvard’s graduate program. In a sympathetic story in the New York Times, we learn that she rejected at the last minute.
Jones, 45, became a published scholar of American history while she was serving her time and led a team of inmates that produced what was judged to be the Indiana Historical Society’s best research project last year.Jones also wrote several dance compositions and historical plays, one of which is slated to open at an Indianapolis theater in December.
Jones was chosen to be one of 18 successful applicants to Harvard University’s history graduate program. However, Harvard’s administration overturned Jones’s admission after some professors raised concerns that she had minimized the murder of her son in the application process. I wouldn’t be surprised; it’s an ugly story.
After. Jones got pregnant at 14, her mother beat her in the stomach with a 2×4. In a statement accompanying her Harvard application, Jones said she suffered a breakdown after years of abandonment and domestic violence, causing her to abuse her own son, Brandon Sims. The boy died in 1992, and his body was never found. Jones admitted that she had secretly buried him, never notifying the police or Brandon’s father that he had died. At her murder trial,. Jones’ friend testified that she confessed to beating Brandon then leaving him alone for days in their apartment, until he died. Sentenced to 50 years in prison, Jones was released thirty years early based on her good behavior and scholarship.
John Stauffer, one of the two American studies professors who flagged and objected to Jones’ admission, said, “We didn’t have some preconceived idea about crucifying Michelle. But frankly, we knew that anyone could just punch her crime into Google, and Fox News would probably say that P.C. liberal Harvard gave 200 grand of funding to a child murderer, who also happened to be a minority. I mean, c’mon.” Apparently the Harvard leadership agreed. E-mails and interviews show that Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, its provost, and the deans of the graduate school vetoed the positive disposition of Jones’ application over fears of criticism by rejected applicants, conservative news outlets and parents.
Observations and Questions:
1 From the Times: “Elizabeth Hinton, one of the Harvard historians who backed Ms. Jones, called her’“one of the strongest candidates in the country last year, period.’ The case ‘throws into relief,’ she added, the question of ‘how much do we really believe in the possibility of human redemption?’”
Hmmm. Wouldn’t you think that by definition a convicted child murderer couldn’t possibly be one of the strongest candidates for anything, other than a Lifetime movie? Two strong candidates, one of whom murdered her little boy, and the other didn’t. Which to choose? Such a dilemma…
And can’t we believe in redemption without holding that lifetime burdens for particularly horrible conduct are not just appropriate, but necessary?
2. If Harvard believed that Michelle deserved to be admitted, why was fear of criticism from others a factor at all?
I know that institutions also have a duty to protect their images and reputations, but not having the integrity and fortitude to follow through on an admissions decision Harvard believed was correct is pure cowardice. It also doesn’t make sense. Harvard’s political correctness crusade under Faust, who is mercifully on the way out, has deserved far more criticism than over a single instance of admitting or rejecting a murderous mother. Harvard is trembling in fear of Fox News now?
3. If Jones were white, or a man, or both, would Harvard or NYU consider him for a graduate program?
4. The Times: “Instead, the spokeswoman offered a general statement saying the graduate school “is committed to recruiting and enrolling students from all backgrounds” and “strives to create an inclusive and supportive environment where all students can thrive.”
Diversity in grad school admissions has to extend to mothers who kill their children? Really? Why?
5. “One of our considerations,” Professor Stauffer said, “was if this candidate is admitted to Harvard, where everyone is an elite among elites, that adjustment could be too much.”
Now that’s stupid, and makes me question his judgments and biases. The woman thrived doing hard time, and he thinks Harvard might be “too much”? She either is qualified for admission or she isn’t; once there, it’s up to her to make the most of the opportunity, or fail…just like anybody else.
6. What does “she’s served her time” or “she’s paid her debt to society” mean to people? Do people think that a prison sentence wipes the slate clean? That’s what the current progressive cant is, illustrated by the Obama administration’s efforts to protect ex-cons from having to reveal that fact early in the employment application process. But punishment doesn’t clean slates. The crime was still committed, with all it indicates about the criminal’s values and character. Michelle Jones may well be a sociopath. Killing a child suggests it, certainly. Her subsequent achievements are not inconsistent with being a sociopath; they are frequently intelligent, resourceful, and charismatic. The 20 years in jail don’t bring Brandon back to life. Is it really unjust if some opportunities are forfeited forever when a mother murders her child?