New York Times op-ed: Harvard Betrays a Law Professor — and Itself, by Randall Kennedy (Harvard):
Misguided students believe that defending Harvey Weinstein makes Ronald Sullivan unfit to be their dean. Apparently the university agrees.
I have been a professor at Harvard University for 34 years. In that time, the school has made some mistakes. But it has never so thoroughly embarrassed itself as it did this past weekend. At the center of the controversy is Ronald Sullivan, a law professor who ran afoul of student activists enraged that he was willing to represent Harvey Weinstein.
Mr. Sullivan is my friend and colleague. He is the director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School and the architect of a conviction-review program in Brooklyn that has freed a score of improperly convicted individuals. He is also a sought-after lawyer who has represented plaintiffs (including the family of Michael Brown, whose death at the hands of a police officer fueled the Black Lives Matter movement) as well as defendants (including Rose McGowan, the actress who faced drug charges and is, ironically, one of Mr. Weinstein’s accusers).
In addition to his work as a professor and a lawyer, Mr. Sullivan, with his wife, Stephanie Robinson, has served for a decade as the faculty dean of Winthrop House, an undergraduate dormitory where some 400 students live.
As a faculty dean, Mr. Sullivan is responsible for creating a safe, fun, supportive environment in which students can pursue their collegiate ambitions. Winthrop House is meant to be a home away from home; faculty deans are in loco parentis. Mr. Sullivan and Ms. Robinson are expected to attend to the students as counselors, cheerleaders, impresarios and guardians. ...
Enraged by Mr. Sullivan’s work on behalf of Mr. Weinstein, a cadre of students at Winthrop, and in other parts of the university as well, demanded the lawyer’s ouster, asserting that his choice of client undermined their confidence in his ability to be properly attuned to their thoughts and feelings. Some said that Mr. Sullivan’s choice was nothing less than “trauma-inducing.”
From the outset of the dispute, which began in January when Mr. Sullivan joined Mr. Weinstein’s team of lawyers (he has recently withdrawn from active participation), Harvard authorities have evinced sympathy with the position voiced by the student dissidents. “I take seriously the concerns that have been raised from members of the College community regarding the impact of Professor Sullivan’s choice to serve as counsel for Harvey Weinstein on the House community that he is responsible for leading as a faculty dean,” the dean of Harvard College, Rakesh Khurana, remarked in an email to students in February.
A few weeks later, after protests that included vandalism (spray-painted graffiti on university buildings included the slogans “Our rage is self-defense” and “Whose side are you on?”), Dean Khurana initiated a review of “the climate” at Winthrop House, including asking students in a questionnaire whether they found the dormitory “sexist” or “non-sexist.” Some onlookers saw the move as a predetermined predicate for wrangling Mr. Sullivan’s resignation or dismissal.
They were right. On Saturday, Dean Khurana announced that Mr. Sullivan and Ms. Robinson would no longer be deans of the college, citing their “ineffective” efforts to improve “the climate” at Winthrop. ...
The upshot is that Harvard College appears to have ratified the proposition that it is inappropriate for a faculty dean to defend a person reviled by a substantial number of students — a position that would disqualify a long list of stalwart defenders of civil liberties and civil rights, including Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall. ...
Suppose atheist students claimed that they did not feel “safe” confiding in a faculty dean who was an outspoken Christian or if conservative students claimed that they did not feel “safe” confiding in a faculty dean who was a prominent leftist. One would hope that university officials would say more than that they “take seriously” the concerns raised and fears expressed. One would hope that they would say that Harvard University defends — broadly — the right of people to express themselves aesthetically, ideologically, intellectually and professionally. One would hope that they would say that the acceptability of a faculty dean must rest upon the way in which he meets his duties, not on his personal beliefs or professional associations. One would hope, in short, that Harvard would seek to educate its students and not simply defer to vague apprehensions or pander to the imperatives of misguided rage.