According to U.S. News & World Report, Harvard University is the 2nd best university in the United States, trailing only Princeton. Earlier this month, however, Harvard made a failing grade. In an act of cowardice, the university caved into a group of students who expressed disdain that Harvard law Professor Ronald Sullivan was among a group of attorneys representing accused sexual predator Harvey Weinstein.
This resulted in Harvard removing Professor Sullivan from Winthrop house, an undergraduate residence hall where he lived and served as a faculty dean. Mr. Sullivan was subsequently stripped of his title as faculty dean - an unacceptable and humiliating way to lose a title he earned ~10 years ago when he became the first black faculty Dean to lead an undergraduate residence hall at Harvard. His wife, Stephanie Robinson, a faculty dean in her own right and also a lecturer at Harvard, sadly became collateral damage in the debacle. Unfortunately, she too was removed and stripped of her title as Dean as well. While Professor Sullivan and his wife will continue to teach at Harvard Law, they are no longer welcome to serve as undergraduate Deans.
That Harvard acquiesced to a group of students’ fantastical claims that having Professor Sullivan continue in his roles at the University was anxiety-producing and contributed to a hostile and unsafe learning environment, is absurd.
In our view, Harvard, a clear global education leader needs to re-examine its priorities and its raison d’etre. Colleges and universities are supposed to shape mores while simultaneously embracing freedom of individuality and choice. Regrettably, by removing Mr. Sullivan, Harvard created an idyllic and unrealistic isolation from the real world for a coddled group of undergraduates. In this case, it also imposed unreasonable professional restrictions on a distinguished faculty member. Although Professor Sullivan was under to no obligation to do so, he took a proactive (and costly) step and resigned from Weinstein’s defense team (there were rumblings about Sullivan being concerned for the safety of his family). In the spirit of maintaining order and continuity at Harvard, following these campus protests he made this difficult decision. Ultimately, it was all for naught, as his employer neutered him anyway.
The 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution stipulates that “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”
When Robert Sullivan is not educating the lawyers of tomorrow, he earns a living as a criminal defense attorney. He has a diverse, balanced and unbiased resume. Throughout his illustrious career, Mr. Sullivan has represented his fair share of detestable human beings. However, he also represented Michael Brown’s family in their wrongful death suit against the city of Ferguson, MO., served as an adviser to Barack Obama and helped secure the release of thousands of wrongfully incarcerated people. By law, every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty and regardless if he or she is innocent or not, they have a legal right to be represented by an attorney, this includes Harvey Weinstein, who just reached a 44 million dollar civil settlement with a number of his victims (he still faces criminal charges). In this instance, Professor Sullivan was taken to task and “convicted” by reason of guilt by association. His penance: disruption to his legal and academic career. Simply put, Robert Sullivan was terminated from one job for performing his other job and now both career trajectories have been adversely affected.
The unfortunate situation surrounding Professor Sullivan and his wife is a microcosm of how the vast majority of colleges and universities in America are morphing into expensive day care centers. This is a point we made previously in TQC Issue #10, on safe spaces, in which we lauded the University of Chicago for taking a virtual zero-tolerance policy on student interference with the free marketplace of thoughts and ideas.
Higher education has, since the time of the ancient Greeks, been tasked with spawning thought and debate irrespective of the personal feelings of those who support or oppose any idea. The purpose is to provoke a legitimate and clear rationale for either side of an argument without allowing personal bias or emotion to meddle in the process. We can only hope that these unlearned softies at Harvard are freshman, because they are either blissfully unaware of the rules that underpin the legal system in the United States, too selfish and self-centered to care, or both. Ironically, these students, who might very well start a social revolution had their civil liberties come under threat, failed to recognize or did not care that they were trampling on another man's rights. However, they get a partial reprieve. College students are no longer young adults, they are big kids. At TQC, we fault Harvard for creating a safe space that is so safe for its students, that they will be endangered when they enter the real world, as “adults”.