As soon as it was revealed earlier this year that a house faculty dean at Harvard University, Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., had decided to join the legal team of Harvey Weinstein, students spoke out. Two undergraduates wrote an op-ed in The Crimson, calling on Harvard to “remove” Sullivan, because he chose to defend Weinstein, “the man whose infamous sexual misconduct and assault of over a dozen women initiated the #MeToo movement.” The students say that they “condemn Sullivan’s decision to represent Weinstein” while serving as dean, and “further condemn the Harvard administration’s inaction.” [Danu A. Mudannayake and Remedy Ryan / Harvard Crimson]
“Petitions and other expressions of student outrage quickly followed,” writes Lara Bazelon for Slate. Hundreds of students protested. Harvard listened. Last Saturday, Harvard announced that it would not renew the appointments of Sullivan and his wife, lecturer Stephanie Robinson, as faculty deans of an undergraduate residence, although both will stay on as professors. “Sullivan and Robinson have served in those roles for a decade and are the first Black professors in Harvard’s history to receive faculty dean appointments.” [Lara Bazelon / Slate]
Sullivan is among the most high-profile criminal-defense lawyers in the country. He has devoted much of his career to representing less-privileged defendants. He is the director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School and previously served as the director of the Washington, D.C., Public Defender Service. After Hurricane Katrina, he helped free thousands of people who had been incarcerated without due process. [Isaac Chotiner / New Yorker]
A Harvard spokesperson said the decision “was informed by a number of considerations,” but students celebrated it as a “win” for the #MeToo movement. “This win—even if it is localized to our campus—means a lot for a lot of other people. It empowers voices that constantly are criticized,” said Danu A.K. Mudannayake, one of the lead student protesters.
But it isn’t a win, especially not for the disempowered. “It is particularly important for this category of unpopular defendant to receive the same process as everyone else—perhaps even more important,” Sullivan wrote in an email to students after the controversy broke out. “To the degree we deny unpopular defendants basic due process rights we cease to be the country we imagine ourselves to be.”