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June 25 2019

Harvard Law Professor Explains in New York Times Why Harvard Was Wrong to Make Him Step Down

by Charlotte Hays

After Harvard Law professor and faculty dean of the Criminal Justice Institute Ronald Sullivan Jr. agreed to represent Harvey Weinstein in his sexual assault trials, Harvard refused to renew the appointment of Sullivan and his wife, Stephanie Robinson, as faculty deans of Harvard’s Winthrop House, where undergraduates live.

In an oped headlined “Why Harvard Was Wrong to Make Me Step Down” in the New York Times, Sullivan addresses his ousting from Winthrop House.  He writes:

The [Harvard] administration’s decision followed reports by some students that they felt “unsafe” in an institution led by a lawyer who would take on Mr. Weinstein as a client.

I am willing to believe that some students felt unsafe. But feelings alone should not drive university policy. Administrators must help students distinguish between feelings that have a rational basis and those that do not. In my case, Harvard missed an opportunity to help students do that.

Mr. Sullivan is too kind. I am less willing to believe that any students actually felt unsafe. A resident dean represents an unpopular client in a sexual case and the snowflakes are frightened? 

Do Harvard students not know that everybody, even those accused of heinous crimes, is entitled under our system to legal representation?

Mr. Sullivan, the kids were posturing. And the administration let them get by with it.

Mr. Sullivan should know this, for in his rather pathetic pleading for himself, he reports that, during his ten-year tenure at Winthrop House, he had represented those accused of sexual offenses and those making such accusations. Previously, there has “never been a whisper of a complaint” about his ability to provide “care and concern” for students concerned with sexual violence. 

Poor Mr. Sullivan persists in believing that he was let go from Winthrop House not because of mob-like sentiments but because students were fearful:

I would hope that any student who felt unsafe as a result of my representation of Mr. Weinstein might, after a reasoned discussion of the relevant facts, question whether his or her feelings were warranted. But Harvard was not interested in having that discussion.

Nor was Harvard interested in facilitating conversations about the appropriate role of its faculty in addressing sexual violence and the tension between protecting the rights of the criminally accused and treating survivors of sexual violence with respect.

What Harvard should have done was not "facilitate" conversations about alleged student fears. It should have assigned a reading list. A good starting place might be Harvard grad (and former Crimson editor) Anthony Lewis’ Gideon’s Trumpet, the 1964 classic about Clarence Earl Gideon’s fight for the right of counsel.

The book changed the law of the U.S. with regard to providing counsel for impoverished defendants. Clarence Earl Gideon was poorer and far more appealing than Mr. Weinstein, who could afford the best lawyers in the land, but the principle is the same. No matter the accusation, the defendant is entitled to a day in court and representation.

Sullivan rather pathetically goes out of his way to say he supports student protest (who doesn’t?) and that he as an African-American has benefited from protest.

But he takes the idea that students at a top university could be frightened because a professor provides counsel to an unpopular client way too seriously.

Give me a break. It is telling that the administration of this Ivy League school caved to kids when there was a better message for them: Grow up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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