We previously discussed the opposition to House Dean Ronald S. Sullivan Jr, a Harvard Law professor, after he decided to represent accused sexual abuser Harvey Weinstein. The protests raise serious concerns over academic and professional freedom, particularly for law professors who often represent unpopular clients. The Harvard Administration did not offer significant support for such values and some deans participated or attended protests despite a letter from dozens of law professors raising the same concerns. The letter from Dean of Harvard College, Rakesh Khurana, is maddeningly vague and does not address any of these concerns over the reasons for firing Sullivan and his wife as deans at the Winstrop House.
While academics pride ourselves on speaking directly and clearly to issues, Khurana’s letter only referred his decision as being based on “a number of considerations.” One would think that an academic would address these serious allegations over academic and professional freedom. Instead, Khurana wrote:
“Over the last few weeks, students and staff have continued to communicate concerns about the climate in Winthrop House to the college. The concerns expressed have been serious and numerous. The actions that have been taken to improve the climate have been ineffective, and the noticeable lack of faculty dean presence during critical moments has further deteriorated the climate in the house. I have concluded that the situation in the house is untenable.”
What is untenable? The complaints? What are his complaints based on… Sullivan’s ethical work as a lawyer for an unpopular client? Khurana seems to consider that immaterial to the considerations of a Harvard administrator.
57 thoughts on ““The Situation Is Untenable”: Harvard Law Professor Representing Weinstein Is Fired As House Dean After Protests”
It’s interesting that former Dean of Winthrop College Sullivan and his wife lost their gigs as Deans of that residence/dining hall after Sullivan’s representation of Harvey Weinstein led to very divisive student and faculty protests pro and con,
Meanwhile Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz’s defense of Jeffrey Epstein, convicted serial pedophile and procurer of several underage girls for others, has gone unprotested.
You can’t take the student and faculty protests of Sullivan’s decision to defend Harvey Weinstein while he was dean of Harvard’s least popular dining and residential hall seriously, knowing the protesters depend on #metoo to decide whose legal defense by Harvard professors to protest.
Professor Dershowitz should not have been treated as Sullivan and his wife have been for representing an unpopular defendant. The alleged behavior of either man’s clients shouldn’t have caused them to lose their jobs. The firing of Sullivan and his wife, if his choice to defend Harvey Weinstein was a factor at all, doesn’t reflect well on Harvard College.
On the other hand, there is a pattern of troubling allegations against Sullivan and Robinson going back over most of the ten years they’ve been deans of Winthrop College. Harvard College unwisely conflated that issue with that of Sullivan’s choosing to represent Harvey Weinstein. If the other allegations made against Sullivan and Robinson should have been acted on, why didn’t they become issues until now?
The situation IS untenable. Just not in the way Dean Rakesh Khurana of Harvard College meant it. While Khurana was vague about why he sacked the Deans Sullivan he did mention “a noticeable lack of faculty dean presence during critical moments” – a mere coat rack on which to hang all the real reasons why the presence of both Ronald Sullivan and Stephanie Robinson as Deans at Winthrop House was “untenable”.
The truly untenable thing about the situation is that Harvard College is part of the wave of colleges choosing to cave into the demands of a minority of their students and faculty who work outside procedures meant to protect the rights of students and faculty to punish legitimate, if unpopular opinions.
Ronald Sullivan spoke his opinion that every accused person deserves the best legal defense possible at the risk of his job and that of his wife at Winthrop House. He and his wife lost their gamble that respect for the ethics of the legal profession were more powerful at Harvard than the passions of the mob. It’s not the outcome that Harvard’s reputaiton would lead you to expect.
But Harvard isn’t what it was, in so many ways. Perhaps the most powerful and famous recent graduate of its law school, Barack Obama, is notable chiefly for the sheer number of times he made Presidential decisions later overturned in the Federal courts. The saga of Barack Obama’s legal and moral incompetence as President isn’t over, but it makes a mockery of Harvard’s claim to producing superior lawyers.
Most recently, Harvard has joined the spineless throng of colleges and universities whose administrators can’t or won’t say “no” to demands by self-appointed spokesmen for student bodies and faculties that people be punished for expressing views which conflict with street justice. THAT is the truly untenable situation at Harvard.
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