The Jury Talks Back

5/16/2019

Harvard University: Law Professor Defending Harvey Weinstein Will Be Relieved Of His Position As Faculty Dean

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dana @ 10:17 am

[guest post by Dana]

A noted Harvard law professor and faculty dean has paid a high price for acting on the fundamental tenet of the justice system that even a creep like Harvey Weinstein deserves representation and a vigorous defense:

Harvard said on Saturday that a law professor who has represented Harvey Weinstein would not continue as faculty dean of an undergraduate house after his term ends on June 30, bowing to months of pressure from students.

The professor, Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., and his wife, Stephanie Robinson, who is a lecturer at the law school, have been the faculty deans of Winthrop House, one of Harvard’s residential houses for undergraduate students, since 2009. They were the first African-American faculty deans in Harvard’s history.

But when Mr. Sullivan joined the defense team of Mr. Weinstein, the Hollywood producer, in January, many students expressed dismay, saying that his decision to represent a person accused of abusing women disqualified Mr. Sullivan from serving in a role of support and mentorship to students. Mr. Weinstein is scheduled to go to trial in September in Manhattan on rape and related charges.

The report makes several things clear: the need for a sudden “climate review” of Winthrop House was suspect, and that the dean of Harvard College has very little appetite for standing up to childish mobs:

As the protests continued, with graffiti aimed at Mr. Sullivan appearing on a university building, Harvard administrators said they would conduct what they called a climate review of Winthrop House. In recent weeks, tensions have escalated, with a student sit-in and a lawsuit sparked by a clash between one of the protest leaders and two Winthrop House staff members who were seen as supporting Mr. Sullivan.

On Saturday, the dean of Harvard College, Rakesh Khurana, sent an email to students and staff members at Winthrop House, informing them that he would not renew the appointments of Mr. Sullivan and Ms. Robinson as faculty deans after their terms end on June 30. Mr. Khurana said in his email that the decision was informed “by a number of considerations.”

“Over the last few weeks, students and staff have continued to communicate concerns about the climate in Winthrop House to the college,” he wrote. “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.”

Sullivan, who announced this week that he has stepped down from representing Weinstein due to a scheduling conflict (but will be available for consultation), addressed the perceived conflict:

“My decision to represent Mr. Weinstein sparked considerable discussion and activism around issues of sexual violence, the appropriate role and responsibilities of Harvard and its faculty in addressing those issues, and the tension between protecting the rights of those criminally accused and validating the experience of those who are survivors of sexual violence. My representation of those accused of sexual assault does not speak to my personal views on any of these matters.”

Along with 52 colleagues who signed a letter in support of Sullivan, saying that “…represent[ing] an unpopular client was fully consistent with his roles as law professor and faculty dean,” Professor Randall Kennedy also wrote an op-ed that is worth reading in full:

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.

Student opposition to Mr. Sullivan has hinged on the idea of safety — that they would not feel safe confiding in Mr. Sullivan about matters having to do with sexual harassment or assault given his willingness to serve as a lawyer for Mr. Weinstein. Let’s assume the good faith of such declarations (though some are likely mere parroting). Even still, they should not be accepted simply because they represent sincere beliefs or feelings.

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.

That Khurana caved in his decision not only [mistakenly] validated student claims that Sullivan’s representation of Weinstein was “deeply trauma-inducing,” but also, ironically, caused students to lose out on an important teachable moment at one of our nation’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning. This especially as Khurana said in a recent interview when asked about Sullivan’s decision to represent Weinstein:

“I think a faculty member is given academic freedom to make decisions that are right for them,” Khurana said. “I also think that every individual is entitled to a vigorous defense. It’s a cornerstone of our justice system.”

–Dana

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.

Live Preview


Powered by WordPress.