Harvard shames itself: fires faculty deans at Winthrop house because students object to one of them taking Harvey Weinstein as a client

UPDATE: The New York Times article about this episode includes this information:

But a number of Mr. Sullivan’s colleagues came to his defense; 52 professors at the law school signed a letter supporting him, saying that his commitment to representing unpopular clients was fully consistent with his roles as law professor and faculty dean, and that Harvard should not pressure him to resign.

At the same time, the dispute took on a racial element, with some saying that Mr. Sullivan was being treated unfairly. In a statement in late March, the Harvard Black Law Students Association criticized the decision by the university to conduct a climate review and expressed concern about “the racist undertones evidenced by the disproportionate response to this issue by the university.”

. . .Mr. Sullivan has represented other controversial clients, including Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots player, when he was tried for double murder, and the family of Usaamah Rahim, a man, shot by the Boston police, who had been accused of being a terrorist.

Mr. Sullivan also represented the family of Michael Brown, a man killed by the police in Missouri, in bringing a wrongful-death suit against the City of Ferguson; the family ultimately received a reported $1.5 million settlement.

He has specialized in overturning wrongful convictions. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he led an effort to change the system that provided legal defense for the indigent in New Orleans; the effort resulted in the release of thousands of wrongfully incarcerated inmates. In 2014, the Brooklyn district attorney, Kenneth Thompson, asked Mr. Sullivan to design and implement a conviction review unit to identify and exonerate wrongfully convicted people. It became a national model.

None of this counts for anything against the rage of the aggrieved students. They need to understand two things: everyone is presumed innocent until they’re convicted, and that everyone, no matter how horrendous the crime they’re accused of, deserves a vigorous defense, for that keeps the legal system fair. The students might also consider the “good” cases Mr. Sullivan has taken on.

You can see Khurana’s letter to the Winthrop House students here.

__________

 

This is late-breaking news from the Harvard Crimson (click on screenshot). And it’s reprehensible for a university supposedly as enlightened as Harvard.

As I’ve reported before (see here and here), the housemaster of Winthrop house, black law school professor Ronald Sullivan, took on Harvey Weinstein as one of his clients. That was too much for the students, who, mindful of the #MeToo movement, demanded his firing. No matter that Sullivan had a history of defending people all over the political and ideological map. As I wrote earlier:

As with many University law professors, Sullivan does private law practice in addition to his academic duties. And his clients have ranged over a whole spectrum, including the family of Michael Brown, the black teenager killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, and whose death helped ignite the Black Lives Matter movement. That should give Sullivan some bonus points to the students. Sullivan has defended other people whom the Left should approve of as well. In his eloquent and admirable defense of Sullivan in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy (another African-American), says this:

[Sullivan] helped win an acquittal in the double-murder prosecution of the professional football player Aaron Hernandez (a convicted murderer in a different case, who eventually committed suicide). He represented the family of Michael Brown, whose death at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., fueled the Black Lives Matter movement. At the invitation of the Brooklyn district attorney, he designed and adopted a conviction-review program that freed scores of improperly imprisoned people. Sullivan is, in short, an imposing, deeply respected figure in the legal community.

. . . When a disoriented undergraduate running down the street naked was arrested by the police in April 2018, Sullivan was among the first to leap to the student’s aid, providing him with assistance that led to a favorable outcome. That student might well have been marked by a criminal record or suffered jail time but for Sullivan’s intervention. That instance was by no means idiosyncratic. Sullivan is characteristically drawn to defending the vulnerable. A piece in The Boston Globe notes an undergraduate who described how Sullivan supported her efforts to hold to account a sexual abuser. Sullivan’s record of vigilant attentiveness to the interests of students at Harvard should, at the very least, have earned him the benefit of the doubt. Instead he is the target of impudent disdain.

Click on the screenshot to read the news:

This is a no-brainer: students should let Sullivan defend whom he wants so long as he’s doing his job at Winthrop House, which apparently he was until the Weinstein news broke. Then the Outrage Brigade went to work, with the help of Harvard Dean of Students Rakesh Khurana—the embodiment of knee-jerk Authoritarian Leftism. (Khurana has been behind many ridiculous “social justice” shenanigans at Harvard, including punishing Harvard students who join “finals clubs” not affiliated with the university.) Khurana commissioned a “climate review” of Winthrop House, which of course would clearly reflect the students’ outrage at Sullivan’s choice of client.

As expected, the review wasn’t good, so Harvard fired not only Sullivan, but also his co-dean Stephanie Robinson. As the Crimson reports in a very short piece (the news just came out):

Khurana wrote that he decided to remove Sullivan and Robinson because the environment in Winthrop is “untenable.”

“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,” Khurana wrote. “I have concluded that the situation in the House is untenable.”

He also called the situation “regrettable,” adding that he admires many of Sullivan and Robinson’s accomplishments.

Khurana added that he, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay, and Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair, will go to Winthrop at noon to answer students’ questions.

The atmosphere is untenable because the students can’t abide Sullivan taking on Weinstein as a client.  Because they are unjustly outraged, Sullivan and Robinson have to go.

I can see how Sullivan appears “tainted” to the students, and how that might affect their interactions with him, but it seems to me palpably unfair to punish him for something that wasn’t even a bit wrong, and for a climate created not by Sullivan, but by the privileged and entitled crystudents. The students could be told to “suck it up”, but they’ll still be disaffected.

I don’t know what to suggest here, but it wouldn’t involve firing Sullivan. Perhaps all the residents of Winthrop House could be offered accommodations outside Harvard Yard—maybe in a hostel in Somerville. They, and not Sullivan, are the ones who must learn to behave. And that is Harvard’s responsibility.

I have nothing but contempt for Harvard’s behavior in this episode. I have nothing but contempt for Khurana for capitulating to the students’ manufactured outrage and their very real ignorance of how lawyers operate.

You can be sure that, because I’m an alumnus with a will (in both senses), Harvard will be hearing from me.

28 Comments

  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 11, 2019 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    I believe I read, in the initial article, that there were but 50 students kicking up a fuss. So a handful of students can crush your career.

    • Posted May 11, 2019 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      Presumably they only lose the role of “housemaster”, not their career or anything major?

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 11, 2019 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    So if I understand this, going to Harvard Law School not only allows you to pick your clients, you also get to pick other lawyer’s clients as well.

  3. Jon Gallant
    Posted May 11, 2019 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Ronald Sullivan’s career, as an attorney and law professor, is already well established, and will not be crushed by this handful of students. However, the example of this episode (and ones like it) will instill fear of the outrage brigades in younger academics early in their careers, and thus train them to conform to the regnant orthodoxies—or at least keep heads down, as many faculty surely do at Evergreen State, Williams College, etc. Is Harvard, as ever, leading the way in the groves of academe? Why then, once Academia generally reaches sufficient conformity, its outputs may become as valuable as Lysenkoist Biology was once upon a time in a galaxy far far away.

  4. Filippo
    Posted May 11, 2019 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    ” . . . black law school professor Ronald Sullivan, took on Harvey Weinstein as one of his clients.”

    Whom would these precious, entitled, narcissistic HAAARR-VARD (as they say at Yale) students allow to represent Weinstein?

    Apparently Sullivan needs to give these students a quitclaim deed to his life so that they can be in control of his life.

    I trust that Harvard alumni are paying close attention to this in the context of how they dispose of their estates, especially regarding Harvard’s over-larded endowment.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 13, 2019 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      Whom would these precious, entitled, narcissistic HAAARR-VARD (as they say at Yale) students allow to represent Weinstein?

      In fine tradition, they’d allow him to be represented and supported by a rope noose over a branch of a convenient tree.
      The short drop – 5 to 25 minutes of dancing the air fandango before strangulation achieves brain death. Or at least, immobility.

  5. tr jackson
    Posted May 11, 2019 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    This arrived just as I was taking off for the 50th anniversary of the Parkhurst Occupation at Dartmouth. Certainly a breach of any known academic norms.

    Can the purity of the cause (opposition to the criminal war against the Vietnamese, in the Parkhurst case) ever justify the otherwise unseemly behaviour?

    Not to suggest that there’s anything praiseworthy about the Harvard mob. Indeed, the professor would seem to be a shining example of rectitude, who should be lauded, rather than castigated.

    I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes — having to treat with Harvey.

  6. dd
    Posted May 11, 2019 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    A silly question: But what does this mean exactly? I take it he is still on law school faculty and his wife continues to be a lecturer? I am not trying to minimize what has been done, it’s despicable.

    But I lived at home during college, so these things are a mystery to me.

    (BTW, I wonder if the person who fired them had been a white male if things would have been different…..)

    Here is the NYTimes report:
    “As the protests continued, with graffiti aimed at Mr. Sullivan showing up on the door of a university building, Harvard administrators said they would do what they called a “climate review” of Winthrop House. ”

  7. CAS
    Posted May 11, 2019 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Amazing! It seems that Harvard law no longer supports the basis of our judicial system in which everyone deserves a defense. Harvard should have dope slapped those whiny students. This sort of decision will only encourage more of this self-involved censorious behavior. More of this sort of stupid trouble is on its way for the administration.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 11, 2019 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Dean of Students Rakesh Khurana should have invited some esteemed member of the Harvard Law School faculty — someone, say, like a Larry Tribe — to come to Winthrop house to hold a townhall-style meeting with the resident students there, to explain to them (and to answer their questions regarding) the role of a lawyer in US society, a lawyer’s ethical obligations, and the crucial role of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in criminal cases. To make clear to them, above all, that by advocating for a client in court, a lawyer does not thereby express any ideological kinship with the client’s cause.

    Certainly, the bright boys and girls at this nation’s flagship private university should be capable of grasping such elemental principles regarding US citizenship. If not, they need to return to junior high for a remedial civics course.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 11, 2019 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      Better yet, they could’ve invited Harvard Law Professor Charles “Set ‘Em Free” Ogletree to do the townhall. The “‘Tree” oughta have some street cred with those kids. He does with me. (Tribe might be a little long in the tooth for that kinda duty.)

    • Filippo
      Posted May 14, 2019 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      “Certainly, the bright boys and girls at this nation’s flagship private university should be capable of grasping such elemental principles regarding US citizenship. If not, they need to return to junior high for a remedial civics course.”

      I think the above would apply to not a few alleged adults in the U.S.

  9. Vaal
    Posted May 11, 2019 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Unbelievable.

    And when an institution like Harvard, who should know as well as anyone the necessity of a defense for any accused person, can cave in like this to mere outrage, it’s just depressing.

    Yup, the word “contempt” barely expresses what this deserves.

  10. DrBrydon
    Posted May 11, 2019 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Appalling. Harvard doesn’t deserve to have a law school.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted May 11, 2019 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      Actually, I wonder if that could impact the accreditation of the law school?

      • Posted May 12, 2019 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        I don’t think they thought that far ahead. But surely the outcry that will come will ring larger and louder than the tantrum that caused this mess. And it should include those with far more weight than a bunch of students.

  11. mfdempsey1946
    Posted May 11, 2019 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    If Harvard of all places cannot stand tall against this tsunami of arrogant ignorance, what institution of higher learning can?

    • Filippo
      Posted May 14, 2019 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

      “If Harvard of all places cannot stand tall against this tsunami of arrogant ignorance, what institution of higher learning can?”

      Perhaps the University of Chicago, for starters.

  12. BJ
    Posted May 11, 2019 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    “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,” Khurana wrote. “I have concluded that the situation in the House is untenable.”

    In other words, “any time there’s a small group of students that are angry about something, we need to fire people. The angriest students’ feelings are the only things that matter.”

  13. Posted May 11, 2019 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    What manner of f*ckery is this? a heavy weight law school behaving like, i don’t know what because i’m stupefied at their response.

    “Harvard will be hearing from me.” that kind of calms the bewilderment, give it heaps of “will” Prof(E).

  14. pablo
    Posted May 11, 2019 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    He should resign from the faculty in protest. Neither the school nor the students deserve him.

  15. Jon Gallant
    Posted May 11, 2019 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    I have been expecting—I would almost say hoping—for our current campus pop-Left orthodoxies eventually to self-destruct in the same way that Lysenkoism did in the USSR: through the feedback process of contact with physical reality. Imagine, for example, the performance of bridges or planes designed by graduates of departments of Critical Gender Theory. This is of course a cartoon version of what we really might expect: declining enrollments at, donations to, and the devaluation of even reputable degrees from, those institutions where pop-Left and post-modernist orthodoxies have become most noxious.

    However, I may fail to take into account a countervailing relationship: that between orthodoxies promulgated in the schools and those in turn expected of the managerial class. A system of this sort prevailed in all the years of theological dominance in Europe before (and even after) the Enlightenment: the school-monks trained the ruling class who then enforced the school-monks’ superstitious orthodoxies. I wonder if a new positive feedback loop of the same sort hasn’t already begun. Graduates of Critical Gender Theory, or its equivalent under other headings, emerge from their training in the new group-think to take administrative positions in Academe—like, say, Dean of Students at Harvard. And they also filter into management roles (starting with HR) in private companies. Management is the locus of the shuffling of papers, rather than the actual construction of anything, so it is well separated from any negative feedback from physical reality.

    In this connection, I note that Professor Rakesh Khurana is, in fact, a specialist in—wait for it—management. He is Professor of Leadership Development at the Harvard Business School, and his second book is subtitled: “The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession.” Hmmm.

  16. Doug
    Posted May 11, 2019 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    So, does this mean that no Harvard law student will ever defend someone accused of rape?

    I’m not surprised that a generation that ridicules the idea of “freeze peach” would also reject the notion that everyone is entitled to a defense.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 13, 2019 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      Surely, no Harvard student accused of rape would be able to get a lawyer in the future.

  17. Posted May 12, 2019 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    Did no one point out to these students that without defence lawyers, cases cannot come to trial?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 13, 2019 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      Doesn’t the court appoint a lawyer from the pool of public defenders, who have no choice but to take the client they’ve been given (or, they can quit).

  18. dvandivere
    Posted May 12, 2019 at 4:30 am | Permalink

    Oddly, if Rakesh Khurana weren’t a nicer guy, Jerry wouldn’t have gotten to go on a boat ride with me in Amsterdam. Rakesh and I shared one class at Cornell, he recognized me in the corner at the open house recruitment event in Cambridge, and that led to my first job, which brought me here to Amsterdam.

    I haven’t talked with him in about 25 years, but I suspect there’s more going on than students protesting that their proof is defending a ‘bad guy.’ Could be wrong, of course, but I feel I have to give Rakesh the benefit of the doubt.

  19. Posted May 13, 2019 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    “Harvard Law” was one of those “a remarkable place” that one used to hear about … now for the wrong reason!


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