When wokeness overwhelms reason: Harvard students demand punishment of a law professor for his legal defense of Harvey Weinstein; university administration waffles

March 10, 2019 • 9:15 am

A few years ago I would not have thought this possible. After all, it’s Harvard (for which I retain some vestigial affection), and the protestors, who are demanding the scalp of a black law professor who is defending Harvey Weinstein, are so terribly ignorant of the basis of criminal defense that they seem almost stupid. But they’re not stupid: their rationality has been overwhelmed by their wokeness. This is a very sad tale, and what’s worse is that Harvard administrators are complicit in demonizing the law professor.

The professor is Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., a Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard’s Law School and director of Harvard’s Criminal Justice Institute. He’s also a “faculty dean” at Winthrop House, one of the twelve residential houses/dormitories where Harvard students live for their first three years at the University. As dean there, Sullivan’s job is to oversee student life, making sure that everybody is as comfortable as possible, feels supported, and has the resources they need. It’s a big job, and so far Sullivan has done well, receiving great reviews.

That is, until it was revealed that he was part of Harvey Weinstein’s defense team.

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.

Why? Because he’s on Harvey Weinstein’s defense team and is reported to on the defense team of another Harvard professor, Roland Fryer, who has been accused of sexual harassment.  That was enough for the students, as well as some Harvard deans, who can’t abide the idea of a defense attorney defending someone accused of sexual misconduct—even though he’s defended other people who don’t seem so reprehensible and is engaged in constructive judicial work for the poor and marginalized.

What happened? First the students went after Sullivan, demanding that he resign as the head of Winthrop House, and be fired if he wasn’t.  As the Harvard Crimson (the student newspaper) reported on February 12:

More than 50 students called for College administrators to remove Winthrop Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., from his post at a rally in front of Massachusetts Hall Monday afternoon.

Toting signs that read “Do Your Job” and “Remove Sullivan,” attendees laid out a set of demands for Harvard administrators. They called for Sullivan’s removal, a public apology, and a formal inquiry into faculty deans’ responsibilities to students.

. . . At Monday’s rally, students stood in front of Massachusetts Hall with tape over their mouths.

After several minutes of silence, a series of students spoke. Hilda M. Jordan ’19 said Sullivan’s comments on Weinstein and Fryer conflict with his role as a faculty dean. In particular, she pointed to Sullivan’s allegations that witnesses in Harvard’s investigations into Fryer were coached.

“Your role is not just in filing paperwork or smiling in our faces. Your role is to deal with the culture that you establish as a Faculty Dean. So Dean Sullivan, please reconcile how you can care about sexual assault and at the same time, have claims against a Harvard affiliate being nothing more than coaching?” she said. “You are a faculty dean, not just an attorney.”

Winthrop resident Madeleine D. Woods ’19 also called for Sullivan to step down from his post and for administrators to reshape the faculty dean position.

“Even if he puts out an apology, the fact that he didn’t even think of the impact this would have is probably the most damning element of this,” Woods said. “The only move forward is not only to remove Dean Sullivan, but then to have a structural reconsideration of what it means to be a faculty dean so we don’t have an issue like this again.”

Here’s a Crimson photo of the protesting students:

Photo: Shera S. Avi-Yonah

And another Crimson photo of how somebody defaced the door of Winthrop House:

Photo: Shera S. Avi-Yonah, The Harvard Crimson

It’s not just the students who are calling for Sullivan’s removal. As Kennedy notes:

“We condemn Sullivan’s decision to represent Weinstein,” The Crimson editorial board declares, highlighting what it views as “the incongruity” of “defending Weinstein in his role as defense attorney, while simultaneously working to promote a safe and comfortable environment for victims of sexual misconduct and assault in his capacity of faculty dean.”

. . . The editorial board writes that “when a mentor and authority figure makes a decision to defend an individual facing allegations of sexual misconduct, he has in effect closed his doors to any student who might look to him for support or solace regarding these issues.”

The Association of Black Harvard Women maintains that Sullivan’s involvement in the Harvey Weinstein case “will only work to embolden rape culture on this campus.”

It’s very odd that these accusations ignore Sullivan’s long-standing commitment to defending the poor and marginalized.

The Crimson suggests that the Harvard administration is taking the side of the students as well, which I find both disturbing and unconscionable:

Several College administrators attended the event. Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair and Harvard College Title IX coordinator Emily J. Miller watched the protest and spoke with students afterward. The Office for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response also set up a table with hot chocolate and handouts for attendees.

Lowell Faculty Dean Diana L. Eck, who attended the rally, said she agreed with students’ calls for the College to reevaluate the faculty dean position.

“We talk a lot about what the role of a resident dean is, what the roles of our tutors are, but the faculty dean role is really important. It’s not nominal. It means a certain amount of hard decision-making on the part of those of us who assume that role,” Eck said.

. . . Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana wrote in an email Monday that support for students in residential spaces is “among the highest of the College’s priorities.”

“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,” Khurana wrote. “I have also met with Professor Sullivan to discuss his responsibilities to the House and have communicated that the College believes that more work must be done to uphold our commitment to the well-being of our students.”

Yes, I can well imagine what Khurana’s “discussion of Sullivan’s responsibilities” was about.

These administrators should be defending Sullivan like Kennedy did, not implying that they are on the students’ side. I have written to both Eck and Khurana expressing my displeasure with their behavior (see email addresses below).

The students’ attitude is apparently that anybody who criminally defends someone guilty of sexual assault should be demonized and punished, regardless of their record of social-justice defense. Indeed, it almost implies that no lawyer should be defending people as odious as Weinstein. Yes, Weinstein is odious, but everybody deserves a defense. The purpose of a vigorous criminal defense is largely to keep our system of justice strong and intact, ensuring that only the most rigorous evidence and highest standards of guilt (“beyond a reasonable doubt”) be enforced. In other words, a strong defense keeps the prosecution honest, the law strong, and the citizens comfortable with the judicial system. If Weinstein is found not to have committed crimes “beyond reasonable doubt”, then he shouldn’t be convicted as a criminal (though he could be found guilty in civil suits). I personally think Weinstein is guilty as hell, but his case still needs to go through the criminal-justice system before he’s tossed in the slammer.

This resonates with me because I was once in a related situation. For several years I worked as an expert witness for criminal-defense attorneys, contesting the government’s flawed and often duplicitous use of DNA evidence to “match” the DNA profiles of the accused with blood or semen samples. Almost always working for public defenders, and for free, I defended accused murders and rapists. I was even on the defense team of O.J. Simpson, though I didn’t contribute much to the trial. I learned a lot about our criminal justice system from this experience; one lesson was that the prosecution, supposedly committed to ensuring justice, would often twist the evidence because their real goal was conviction.

I did this work not because I wanted to free criminals, but to ensure that both the poor and the rich, the obscure and the famous, got a fair trial—a trial in which the accused could mount a rigorous defense and that the prosecution was kept on the rails and could make its case strongly. In other words, I worked to keep the legal system strong.

This bothered some of the students in my department, but only when I defended two black men accused of aggravated rape. That upset some female graduate students. To deal with that, I gave a talk to the students explaining how the government was misusing DNA evidence, and why I was contesting the prosecution:  to ensure scientific truth and as well as a sound legal system. The public defender with whom I worked, a woman, also spoke to the students. In the end, I think they understood, unlike the students at Harvard. (By the way, let me give a shout-out here to these public defenders, who work long hours at low pay, doing the best they can for the poor people whom they represent. They are often overwhelmed with huge case loads, and my work with them opened my eyes to the difference in legal representation that the poor get in America compared to the wealthy.)

But back to Sullivan. Harvard should be defending him and defending his defense of others. But they aren’t. The students haven’t thought much about this, apparently, despite Sullivan’s having written two letters to Winthrop House students explaining his actions. He shouldn’t have had to do that. This is Harvard, for crying out loud! But even Harvard students can let their “wokeness” overwhelm their rationality.

Kennedy ends his defense of Sullivan with a powerful message. I’ve put part of this in bold because I think it explains why many university administrators are defending the woke, even when the woke are wrong or misguided:

These events are emblematic of a crisis besetting all strata of higher education, as activists of various stripes perceive cannily the temptation of administrators to mollify zealots in return for quiet — regardless of the merits of competing arguments or the importance of the values in question.

That “progressive” activists could denounce so bitterly a person who has demonstrated so clearly a commitment to inclusive, humane, liberal values and practices is indicative of a concerted illiberalism that is menacing university life. As this controversy unfolds, one can only hope that Harvard authorities will decline to defer to expressions of noisy discomfort and instead adhere to those intellectual and moral tenets that sometimes must bear the uncomfortable burden of complexity.

Kudos to Sullivan for vigorously defending his colleague.

One last thought: Harvard students are being groomed to be America’s leaders, and many of them will be. Their behavior thus makes me doubly distressed, for, unless they grow up, they’ll import this wokeness into politics, government, and every area of adult life.

These articles were brought to my attention by Greg Mayer, who also went to Harvard and who added his own take in an email to me:

One of the things that bothers me most about these things is the complete lack of respect for the principles of due process, and how that process often leads to the exoneration of the accused. There was a disturbing piece on NPR piece yesterday about 6 people jailed for a rape and murder they didn’t commit—exonerated years later by DNA tests. They were convicted using classic techniques used to develop distorted and false eyewitness testimony. I taught science and pseudoscience for 18 years, and one of the key take-home lessons is that the sincerity of a witness’s testimony is no guarantee of its accuracy. So many injustices have occurred due to simply believing what people say. It boggles the mind to see how quickly society seems to have forgotten that.

Weinstein might be guilty, but there is absolutely nothing dishonorable in insisting that he receive a fair trial, and nothing dishonorable in being his lawyer. John Adams defended the British soldiers at the Boston Massacre, winning acquittal of 6 of 8, and reduced charges for the other 2. Though a well known member of the Patriot party at the time, defending the British soldiers, he later wrote,  was “… one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country.”

As I said, I’ve written to both Dean Rakesh Khurana and Faculty Dean Diana Eck, copying Harvard President Lawrence Bacow, defending Sullivan’s right to defend Weinstein (or anybody else) without being demonized by students and tut-tutted by the Harvard administration. You can find their email addresses at the links right above if you want to give your opinion, one way or the other.

UPDATE: Here’s my letter, which I’ve put below the fold to save space:

Dear Deans Khurana and Eck,

As a Harvard graduate (Ph.D in biology in 1978), I was appalled to see both the students and administration at my alma mater calling for the scalp of Ronald Sullivan simply for defending Harvey Weinstein. And I am equally appalled at the tepid behavior of both of you, as reported in the Harvard Crimson, with respect to Sullivan’s attempt to keep our criminal justice system strong.

You surely know about Sullivan’s past history of defending the poor and marginalized, and yet, when misguided students attack him for doing what defense attorneys are supposed to do—provide a vigorous defense of their client—you more or less take the side of the students. As the Crimson reported in February:


Lowell Faculty Dean Diana L. Eck, who attended the rally, said she agreed with students’ calls for the College to reevaluate the faculty dean position.

“We talk a lot about what the role of a resident dean is, what the roles of our tutors are, but the faculty dean role is really important. It’s not nominal. It means a certain amount of hard decision-making on the part of those of us who assume that role,” Eck said.

. . . Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana wrote in an email Monday that support for students in residential spaces is “among the highest of the College’s priorities.”

“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,” Khurana wrote. “I have also met with Professor Sullivan to discuss his responsibilities to the House and have communicated that the College believes that more work must be done to uphold our commitment to the well-being of our students.”


I can only imagine what kind of “meeting” was had with professor Sullivan, and how beleaguered he felt. I myself, as a liberal and a geneticist, have defended unsavory people (pro bono) several times as an expert witness in DNA cases. I did this not to “free the guilty”, as Harvard students presumably believe, but to ensure that, as our judicial principles stipulate, everyone, rich or poor, gets a vigorous criminal defense.

Instead of taking the side of the students against Sullivan, you should be defending him and his leadership of Winthrop House, as well as enlightening the students about the nature of criminal justice. I can only believe that you are creating the kind of atmosphere that Professor Randall Kennedy described in his defense of Sullivan:

“ . . . activists of various stripes perceive cannily the temptation of administrators to mollify zealots in return for quiet — regardless of the merits of competing arguments or the importance of the values in question.”

Today I am ashamed of my alma mater—of both the students and of administrators like yourself, who go along with misguided sentiments, adhering to the principle of quietude rather than justice. I have written about this matter on my website, which has 60,000 subscribers and even more readers: https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2019/03/10/harvard-students-demand-punishment-of-a-law-professor-for-his-legal-defense-of-harvey-weinstein-university-administration-waffles/

Yours sincerely,
Jerry Coyne
Emeritus Professor
Department of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago

112 thoughts on “When wokeness overwhelms reason: Harvard students demand punishment of a law professor for his legal defense of Harvey Weinstein; university administration waffles

  1. The infestation and transformation is complete. John Adams would’ve sent his children to a community college had this been the condition of Harvard in his day.

  2. Maybe they need a new course at Harvard in Law 101. Very poor showing by a school that should know better. And maybe the new progressives are taking over the schools if they also have this one. A sorry state of affairs in all schools.

    If we would take these so-called students back in time to around 1770 I can see the tar and feathers flying as they run John Adams, later the second president of the U.S., out of town as he was so radical that he defended the British in the Boston Massacre.

    Funny, I thought you had to be smart to go to Harvard but maybe just rich.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. When did intelligence stop being a prerequisite for attending a university like Harvard? I’m not sure they could handle a Law 101 course, unless it was mostly coloring in or cutting and pasting. Unfreakingbelievable!

    2. Well said. I too would have thought that a Harvard student could understand the importance of a strong and well-functioning judicial system without having to have it explained to them.

      I can see why somebody who doesn’t understand that would be upset at someone being on the Weinstein defence team, but not those who should get it.

      A criminal case should be a disinterested process on both sides. It should be about the presentation and assessment of evidence and whether that evidence shows the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

      I find it distressing that in so many countries (including my own) that the poor, especially when they’re people of colour, have a much higher conviction rate than others, and are also sentenced to jail more often and for longer. It’s just wrong.

      People like Jerry who work/ed pro bono, or as public defenders, on the basis of principle are heroes imo.

  3. You go Professor Sullivan!

    Wonder what these assholes at Harvard would’ve made of Darrow’s defense of Leopold & Loeb. Do they have any idea how hard it was to find counsel for the Scottsboro Boys?

    Maybe this is where we end up when schools refuse to teach To Kill a Mockingbird.

  4. If one can say, “when a mentor and authority figure makes a decision to defend an individual facing allegations of sexual misconduct, he has in effect closed his doors to any student who might look to him for support” when having been assaulted, one can as easily say that when a mentor and authority figure makes a decision to not defend an individual facing allegations of sexual misconduct, he has in effect closed his doors to any student who might look to him for support when accused of assault, be the allegations valid or invalid.

  5. I find it shocking that at Harvard, of all places, students have such a thin and pitiful understanding of the legal system and criminal defense in particular.

    J’accuse then Lock Him Up? Is that what they want?

    1. I am trying to see that they do understand those principles. But they have decided to let other motivations override them, and they consider those motivations to be ‘higher principles’.

      1. I always love “higher principles!” It needs to be accompanied by a choir singing, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

    2. Well, they are students, a role which apparently nobody has explained to them.
      Their demands are not, and don’t have to be considered and rational.
      They have found that making demands seems to result in them at least feeling like they have power. The point is not really about Dr. Sullivan’s actions. It is always about making more demands, and enjoying how it feels when those demands are met.
      Not to say that they are not really angry. But it is like the rage of a toddler when denied something they desire.

      All these administrators are just afraid to be the first one to stop clapping after Stalin’s speech. Putting these people in their place is going to be unpleasant. But it is a bit of a disservice for kids to go through university with the main skill they are learning is how to be an intolerant bully.

      The earlier they learn the truth, the easier it will be for them and everyone else.

  6. I think we are continuing to underestimate the true causes of this new them verses us mentality and tribal life the world is living in today. I recommend a new read, Zucked, by Roger McNamee to learn more about the platforms we all seem to live on.

    Let me quote from one paragraph – Facebook, Google, and Twitter insinuated themselves into the public square in nearly every country in which they operate and today they dominate it in many, including the United States. They have assumed a role normally reserved in democracies for governments. Unlike a democratically elected government, the platforms are not accountable to their users, much less to the countries on which they have impact. To date, the platforms have not demonstrated any understanding of the responsibilities that comes with control of the public square.

  7. Their Pasteur’s, teacher’s and the whole generation who raised these students failed in their jobs to pass on the basics of our civilization. I don’t want to think about what the next generation after them will be like if this is an example of the generation that us about to take over after us.

    1. Over the years I’ve occasionally happened on a statement by a young adult to the effect, “My teacher should have made me . . . .” (do whatever it was that the teacher was supposed to MAKE the student do). Such a statement does seem to reflect the person’s awareness and acknowledgement that he’s not been on the right path. Teachers have more than a few students to deal with. Not every student pays attention to what s/he needs to pay attention to. Perhaps such a high-maintenance person needs his own private governess/tutor/guardian/conservator from the get-go to make the student do what s/he should do.

  8. I join your shout-out to the public defenders. I’ve worked alongside many of them — federal and state — especially in the early days when I was taking court appoints in cases where the PD’s office was conflicted out. They do yeoman’s work, and they do it professionally and consistently well.

  9. I also do a lot of expert work and I’ve worked with a diverse array of lawyers. The surprising (to me) fact is, lawyers get emotionally invested in their cases. They believe (they HAVE to believe) their client is “right” in order to mount a vigorous case. They are _always_ aghast at how bad the adverse side is, how terrible the adverse lawyers are. They feel personally offended at every counterargument to their claims. I think this is a necessary disposition for the best lawyers. Unlike an expert witness (who is unbiased) the lawyers are heavily biased. They are representatives of their client, and PAID to be biased.

    That means that Sullivan is not only helping the system by giving representation to Weinstein, but he must do everything in his power to HELP Weinstein. Even if that means digging into the past of alleged victims, trying to smear their reputations, questioning their sexual indiscretions and outright attacks Weinstein’s victims with vigor. This is distasteful to a lot of people, but is often effective in front of a jury.

    Now suppose you are a young student who was just assaulted and you’re thinking of going to Sullivan for counsel at Harvard, but you just saw him tear into a Weinstein victim on TV. Logically, it shouldn’t matter (as our esteemed host explained). And you should balance Sullivan’s record of helping victims. But emotionally, this might be hard to reconcile.

    1. “… lawyers get emotionally invested in their cases. They believe (they HAVE to believe) their client is “right” in order to mount a vigorous case. They are _always_ aghast at how bad the adverse side is, how terrible the adverse lawyers are. They feel personally offended at every counterargument to their claims. I think this is a necessary disposition for the best lawyers.”

      I think this a more accurate description of what occurs civil cases, where the lawyers and client often belong to the same country club, than it is of criminal cases, where one side represents the government and the other represents people who may be accused of reprehensible acts (although even there, a criminal defense lawyer must find something he or she likes or admires or respects about the client in order to advocate the client’s cause effectively). There’s much less game-playing and pettiness in the criminal arena, where what’s at stake isn’t just whacking up money damages but people’s freedom, or even their lives.

      I also think it’s dangerous for a lawyer to identify too closely with the client; it robs the lawyer of the distance and perspective needed to exercise proper professional judgment.

      1. Thanks for pointing this out, Ken. I work mostly with civil cases and I’ve only been retained once in a criminal matter. I don’t have much of a sense of how attorneys relate to clients when the client is accused of a serious (especially a violent) crime.

    2. I’m sure Weinstein will have a large legal team, and Prof. Sullivan appears to be a legal theorist. I strongly doubt he’ll be in court cross-examining witnesses.

    3. Young students at Harvard are supposed to be the most intelligent there are. It should not be beyond their ability to understand that Weinstein has a constitutional right to legal counsel to assist in his defence.

      If the student is uncomfortable with seeing Sullivan, they can go see somebody else instead. What they shouldn’t be doing is trying to hound Sullivan out of office for doing his job.

      1. One of the protesters holds a sign saying, “Do your job.” I gather that Sullivan has prudently and cautiously considered how much time he can put into the Weinstein case without compromising his Harvard duties without coming up on the “target acquisition radar” of Harvard administration, who would reasonably have a problem with his working on the Weinstein case “on company time.” All things considered, from his personal financial perspective, the higher his hourly rate the fewer hours he needs to put into the Weinstein case.

        This also gets me to contemplating how a high public official, like a U.S. senator, can do justice to her/his job while running for POTUS.

    4. “Even if that means digging into the past of alleged victims, trying to smear their reputations…”
      Lawyers do this because the law permits them to do so-if they failed to act in this way they would not, as they are ethically obliged to do, be acting in the best interests of their client. If you are looking for culprits blame the legislators and higher judiciary who control what evidence and lines of questioning are admissible.
      Some lawyers (and I know very littler about US ones) may get emotionally involved to the extent you suggest but is far from universal and indeed in any good team of lawyers it should be discouraged.

        1. It’s been my impression that an attorney can still question a victim’s behavior on or around the time of the alleged assault, such as what was she wearing, had she been drinking, why was she out alone, why didn’t she report the assault quicker, why can’t she remember all the details, etc. Is this correct?

          1. A lot would depend on the nature of the incident and the nature of the defense, Gabrielle.

            Some of those questions would probably be appropriate to ask any witness in any type of case, since a witness’s ability to perceive, remember, and recollect the salient facts is always at issue. Other of these questions — such as what the victim was wearing or why the victim was out alone — I can’t imagine ever being relevant under any scenario.

  10. I have mixed feelings about this. You are correct that the accused must have a robust defence, and that those who take the job to defend alleged rapists, murderers and even genocidal tyrants ought not be intimidated or worse. We should proudly cherish the tradition of fair trials, which assume innocence, are interested in truth and treats everyone with dignity and compassion. Harvard’s students apparent attitude is dangerous and reminds me of the fascistoid undercurrent that runs through wokeness, which originally also priotizes “lived experience” and “counter-storytelling” over finding out the truth (OJ’s lawyer Johnny Cochran subscribed to proto-woke critical race theory, famously used its “techniques”, and was lampooned by South Park in the “Chewbacca Defense” skit).

    However. It’s also a truism that not everything one could be doing also can or should be done at the same time, for example climbing Mount Everest and ironing the shirts. Can you simultaneously lobby for big oil in Washington and at once be a credible street activist for renewable energy? You could, in theory, but it doesn’t gel well. It would be understandable that other people become skittish and wouldn’t know where your priorities are. It doesn’t have to rise to the level of conflict of interest, but begins earlier with something like your ethos.

    What’s up here? You chose to highlight as an ethos a commitment to a strong, fair, legal system. But is a dean, who is apparently a kind of steward and representative of a group of less powerful, less influential, “weaker” students the right person to defend a wealthy alleged sexual predator as Harvey Weinstein against a group of less powerful, less influential, “weaker” accusers? Something is cross there, and I understand why the students have problems with that. The key is power. Was Weinstein a poor nobody, the students had no case at all. But he isn’t, and there could be scores of other people taking the job on his defense team (again, free from intimidation or worse), without the bad optics.

    1. Your last paragraph there kind of loses me. You look for a certain type of lawyer to represent a certain type of client? This is not a TV show, it’s just the law. Putting the proper client with the proper representation is a new class of law.

      1. Should a man who once went to prison for violence against children become a janitor at an orphanage? Probably not, even when it was perfectly possible, all paperwork considered. The reason would be that there are plenty of janitor jobs and that the situation allows for some compromise without jeopardising someone’s second chance in life. That’s what my intuition suggests.

        Harvey Weinstein is the biggest fish of #MeToo. He’s an extraordinary case in many respects. He’s rich, has a whole team to help him. Being a dean is a specific position, and I think this is at odds.

    2. I was also confused by the last paragraph. I don’t think this is about power so much as it is about perps versus victims. If you take on a role where on Mondays you’re assisting rape victims and on Tuesdays you’re discrediting (other) rape victims, it creates bad optics.

      1. Depending on how you see a dean. I am not American, so the image conjured up is that of a shepherd of sorts. If that shephard also helps a butcher every other month with selecting and killing sheep of another flock, I could see that his own sheep aren’t too happy about it, even though it does not affect them directly. Hope the metaphor makes sense.

        1. Yes, exactly. Sullivan has apparently appointed a different point person to handle sexual assault issues at Winthrop House in order to assuage student concerns. This is probably a good step, but I doubt it will be enough.

          1. On thing I notice from the recent Manafort example, is the rich kind of script their legal team to match the judge they are up against. It has worked out very well so far in his case. And a judge that is so bias against Mueller and for Trump it is kind of sickening.

          2. It might be better to have the lawyer who understand the defense of those accused of sexual assault assisting you if you’ve been sexually assaulted. I’d imagine that having knowledge and experience on both sides of a trial would be very beneficial.

    3. I don’t understand why the students expect the dean to be their “steward and representative”. I have never seen my dean this way during my student years. To me, he was an authority figure demanding from students rather than representing them.

      1. In what way did you defend murderers and rapists? Presumably, if the job actually did require you to do that, you wouldn’t have taken it. An expert witness does not have the same motivation as a lawyer on the team, or they shouldn’t anyway. Unlike the lawyer, the expert witness is NOT supposed to be an advocate for anyone but give unbiased testimony on some narrow subject.

      2. The details matter in this case. I try to bring out the problem with a small twist. Suppose there was a special therapist person on campus that helps students to cope with sexual assault. This person, in a completely separated function, was also helping those accused of sexual assault as a legal defender. Even though “technically” one has nothing to do with the other, I hope you see that the “optics” aren’t right and that studends would be doubtful that such a person can help them in the event something happens to them.

        Now what is when this person was not just helping any accused person, but was on the legal team of the negative poster boy of the #metoo movement, which is about society’s trivialisation or “overlooking” of sexualized violence?

        I also don’t say that it is “ruled out”, but that I have mixed feelings about this and that in such sensitive matters, on the heels of a movement that wants to spread awareness, it’s more tone deaf of the dean to not consider that his different roles seem at odds, if not by the book, then in spirit.

  11. I fear this generation is going to have a lot of lawyers and, more importantly, lawmakers and judges who believe that those accused of sexual crimes don’t deserve a vigorous defense. Just look at what’s happened in Canada, where they’ve intentionally weakened the ability of people accused of rape and sexual assault (but no other crimes) to defend themselves after Ghomeshi successfully defended himself (and did so by proving that the people who accused him conspired to tell malicious lies in order to get him on trial). Rather than react with a sigh of relief that Ghomeshi was able to produce the evidence that demonstrated his accusers lied and conspired against him, the lawmakers went along with the outrage of the “woke” Left at Ghomeshi’s acquittal and made laws to try and ensure someone in his position couldn’t pull such a stunt of proving their innocence in that way ever again.

    1. Ghomeshi proved that alleged victims were coordinating their actions against him. He did not prove his innocence, nor had he to. Actually, I have read an article by him confessing his guilt. BTW, the person who decided to publish this article was fired for this (I don’t remember his name).

      1. I guess you can’t say he proved his innocence beyond all doubt. The only way to do that for an accusation such as this is to prove you were in some other location at the time the accusations are alleged to have occurred, with evidence such as hotel receipts, multiple witnesses, etc. What was proved was that (1) all the witnesses changed, left out, and outright lied about extremely relevant details of their testimonies, and (2) they exchanged over 5,000 messages with each other leading up to the trial, and those messages included how to coordinate in a manner that would destroy Ghomeshi in court.

        But now, the evidentiary rules for these cases (and only these cases; not for murder, or robbery, or anything else) have been changed, in direct response to the outrage over Ghomeshi being acquitted. For one, the defense now has to turn over all the evidence they plan to use to the prosecution months in advance. This gives the plaintiffs/prosecution time to coordinate a defense of inconsistencies, conspiracy, lying, etc. Of course, this rule does not go in the other direction, and so the prosecution does not have to do the same. The prosecution is free to blindside the defense with evidence that demonstrates inconsistencies, conspiracies, lies, etc., but the defense is not. Several other rules have also been changed for cases like this to favor the plaintiffs/prosecution.

        I see this as an enormous miscarriage of justice. To change rules for the discovery period and trial for one specific crime is unconscionable, especially when those rules are obviously meant to give one particular side an advantage over the other.

      2. Also, I’d be genuinely interested to see that article where Ghomeshi admits his guilt. Even if the article has been taken down, it would accessible via the Internet Archive.

        1. By the way, I have just read the Wikipedia article about Ghomeshi’s trial, but I found no mentioning of the accusers conspiring. Could you give a source?

          1. Yeah, Wikipedia was the first thing I read, and it leaves out a ton of information.

            Here’s an article on the many inconsistencies and constant “updating” of their statements: https://www.thestar.com/news/jian-ghomeshi/2016/03/24/jian-ghomeshi-verdict.html

            I can’t find any articles that I originally read about Decoutere instructing the other plaintiffs in order to conspire against Ghomeshi; all I can do is produce the article that notes they exchanged 5,000 messages before the trial: https://globalnews.ca/news/2503666/jian-ghomeshi-trial-third-witness-set-to-testify-against-former-cbc-radio-host/

  12. A while back, during the aftermath of the Bundy Occupation trial, many were furious with how the courts had treated these alleged criminals. My stance then, as it is now, is not that they should have been treated less fairly – but that all should be so fortunate to experience our justice system thusly. The goal should not be to lower the standards and make it less fair for everyone, but to continue to strive for all to receive fair trials.

  13. I find that I agree with JB and Aneris on this issue. What seems to be missing here is a discussion of why Sullivan had to take this case. Even if we can rely on him to compartmentalize by mounting a vigorous defense of Weinstein while simultaneously fulfilling his duties as Faculty Dean, it gives the appearance of a conflict of interest.

    Presumably, Sullivan did not need to put himself in this position. Weinstein has his pick of lawyers and many would be willing to do this job based on the pay and exposure of such a high-profile case. Perhaps this also motivated Sullivan against his better judgement. It also looks bad when a rich guy like Weinstein can afford to have Harvard law professors on their defense team while poor people accused of crimes have to make do with public defenders.

    So why didn’t the Harvard powers ask Sullivan to drop the case? Is that not possible? Perhaps they did behind closed doors.

    The Harvard powers that be should use this as a teaching moment. His superiors could choose this moment to explain to the students how important it is that everyone accused of a crime have good legal representation. No way should Sullivan lose his job. No way should Harvard give in to the student’s demands.

    1. Sullivan has undertaken to represent Harvey Weistein personally regarding a specific set of charges. He hasn’t undertaken general advocacy for the “pro” side of sexual harassment and assault. There’s nothing about his representation of Weinstein that would interfere with his performance of his duties as a dean — the same as a judge who rules for a plaintiff in one case can rule for a defendant in the next — except in the minds of an uncomprehending public.

      1. Yet it looks bad. I think you are splitting hairs. If he’s on the team, it represents a choice of sides. If his work helps Weinstein get off any charges, he will have helped Weinstein. This is how it works in real life.

        1. Would you foreclose the lawyers from the ACLU who represented Nazis in their bid to march in Skokie from ever representing a Jew — or the lawyers who fought to vindicate the free-speech rights of the Klansman in Brandenburg v. Ohio, from ever representing an African-American?

          I think it “looks bad” only to those who have a fundamental misapprehension regarding the role of a lawyer in society. The remedy should be greater education and understanding, not placing artificial restraints on legal representation.

          1. No. As I have said over and over, this is only about Sullivan taking on a job that conflicts with his previous commitment to the university. It has nothing to do with defending monsters (alleged monsters). Monsters have to be defended. It’s the law.

    2. You can question Sullivan’s judgement in taking the case in the first place, but suggesting the powers that be at Harvard put pressure on him to drop it is a whole different kettle of fish. Weinstein could probably sue Harvard for that.

      1. Sullivan is a full-time salaried employee of Harvard. I expect Weinstein hired Sullivan to gain the Harvard prestige, as much as anything else. I don’t see why Harvard doesn’t have an interest in this. If Sullivan were the employee of a private firm I am sure they would take an interest. It is the peculiarities of the academic system that insulates Sullivan from accountability to his employer.

        1. Sullivan isn’t representing Weinstein as part of his duties at Harvard. If taking on a client in his private practice violates some rule at Harvard, that’s one thing. But there’s no indication of that in the story. Absent such a rule, I think Harvard would be on shaky ground if they tried to dictate which clients he can represent.

          1. No one is saying he violated a Harvard rule. If anything, it is only about his outside activity appearing to conflict with his ability to play a particularly sensitive role with the students. This has nothing to do with his role as a law professor. The students are wrong to ask for him to be dismissed.

        2. While a professor at Harvard, Alan Dershowitz represented Claus von Bülow. Does that make Harvard pro-mariticide?

          1. Uh, did I say or imply that Dershowitz’s action made Harvard pro-mariticide, or that Sullivan’s actions imply Harvard supports rape and sexual assault? That is not the issue.

            BTW, Dershowitz also helped spring O. J. Simpson and is now already on Weinstein’s “dream team.” These people line their pockets using their prestige (and their institution’s) to defend rich celebrities. If you can’t see a problem, too bad. Dershowitz also informally but publicly defended Kavanaugh and now defends Trump. I’m not impressed by him.

            1. Whether you’re impressed or not with his clients is of no moment. What matters is whether Harvard can dictate to a law professor what private clients he or she may undertake to represent on his or her own time, based merely on the feelings and (mis)perceptions of students. I think it is dangerous and wrongheaded for Harvard to arrogate such authority to itself. And that applies to Sullivan, just as it applies to Dershowitz.

            1. Can you name a single specific act or obligation Sullivan would be constrained from undertaking in his role of “faculty dean” at Winthrop House due to his representation of Harvey Weinstein?

      2. Weinstein can’t force a particular lawyer to be on his defense team. It’s just a job that Sullivan has chosen to take. AFAIK, lawyers leave defense teams all the time, telling their client, “I’m out. Find a different lawyer.” In fact, he’s evidently not the first lawyer to quit Weinstein’s team:

        Harvey Weinstein’s Lawyer, Ben Brafman, Quitting After Clashes Over Legal Strategy


        If he was forced to quit the job, I suppose Sullivan could sue Harvard for breach of his employment contract, assuming it promised to allow Sullivan to pursue work like this. On the other hand, he may well have a morals clause in which he promises not to do things that make the university look bad or interfere with his duties. It is an unlikely lawsuit either way.

        1. “…he may well have a morals clause in which he promises not to do things that make the university look bad…”

          Anyone who thinks that a lawyer’s representation of a client accused of an unpopular crime can in any way, shape, or form make anyone or any organization associated with that lawyer “look bad” has utterly misunderstood the nature of the practice of law and of the administration of justice in Western democracy.

          1. Spot on. If anything it makes the University and the Law School look good and as upholding the principles that should be drummed into every law graduate.

            1. It’s not about whether Weinstein deserves a good defense. Stop moving the cheese. It is about whether Sullivan specifically should have taken the case considering his prior and ongoing commitment. As far as I know, we haven’t heard anything about why Sullivan has to be the one to take this case or why he took it. In fact, it sounds like his involvement legally prevents him from discussing it. All the more reason he should not have taken it. What would have stopped him from simply discussing it with Harvard before making the Weinstein commitment? Surely he could see that it would get some reaction from the students, assuming they found out about it, which was probably inevitable.

              1. Cheese has not been moved and I don’t care why Sullivan took the case. My point is that lawyers should be free to take whatever cases they feel appropriate and that a Law School should be supporting that position. The fact that some students don’t like the case in question says more about their fitness to be lawyers than Sullivan’s position. If he has a right to undertake private practice it is unacceptable for Harvard or its students to decide what clients he can or can’t represent.

              2. I agree with you with respect to Sullivan’s law professor position. However, his additional role as student adviser, which I assume was something he took on in addition to his professorship, is a different kettle of fish. As I’ve said several times, this is not about his role as law professor. The students are dead wrong to call for his wholesale firing.

          2. The point is simply that the university has some say in what Sullivan does with his off hours. We’re not talking about a firing offense here merely bad judgement considering his student advisory position. FWIW, I support the need for everyone to get a good defense so no need to get on that particular high horse.

  14. In his position at Harvard he not only has to protect students who are victims or claim to be victims, he also has to protect the rights of those students who are accused, some of whom may be falsely accused.
    To assume that his job is only to protect one group is not correct. His job is to look after the safety and comfort of all students.
    For him to defend someone accused foes not disqualify him any more than if he represented an alleged victim. It us not unusual for lawyers to represent victims and accused in their practice.
    Harvard may consider putting the his successor’s contract that they cannot represent either side in outside litigation.

    1. Maturity. I equate this need to be ‘woke’ or ‘woker than thou’ to immaturity. And higher education in this country has lost its way in helping to create rational, mature adults. I don’t have the solution for a national maturity stimulants- maybe force all 18-year olds to take care of a baby. I kid. Either way, it looks like we’re witnessing a generation of spoiled child-adults. I find it interesting that this trend’s trajectory follows that of the internet, social media, and cell phones. Would our youth be doing this kind of shit without these technological marvels they grew up with? We’ll never know.

  15. Randall Kennedy’s comment about the administrators is particularly astute. Their unctuous attempts to appease the student demonstrators should concern us, maybe more than the students’ behavior. [Remember the administration at Evergreen State College.]
    Three cheers for distinguished alumni like our host reprimanding them by direct letter. I am curious about the reply from deans Khurana and Eck—although empty waffling is probably all that can be expected.

  16. The fact that Harvey Weinstein is entitled to legal counsel is not the issue. Obviously he is and with his money he will get the best. The question is why Sullivan, a full-time big-shot law professor and House Dean at Harvard, would choose to be on this case (besides the $$$)? I do see a conflict here.

    1. Possibilities are he thought it would be an interesting case, he enjoys practicing law and it thought he would gain experience and learn something.
      And nothing in his contract prevented it.
      And then there is the money.

      1. When I was an academic I, like you, did expert testimony. It as always pro bono because I was employed and paid well by my university, so I did the job only if I thought there was a social good. Many of my colleagues did not feel this way. They made their expert testimony into a self-enriching side consulting business to the detriment of their students. When I became Chair, I tried to reign that in, but with limited success.

        If Sullivan is providing his service pro bono because he believes there is an important legal issue at stake, then fine. If he is doing it to collect more $$$ by selling Harvard prestige in a celebrity case defense then, sorry, I see a conflict.

      2. It’s the appearance of conflict of interest. I see it as similar to recusals. A judge is supposed to be recused if there’s the appearance of bias. Actual bias is not required.

        The fact that Sullivan can’t even fully defend himself because of the secrecy requirements of an ongoing case underlines his bad choice to be involved. He unnecessarily put himself in a bad situation.

        1. Sullivan has no need to “defend himself”. His detractors need to grow the fuck up and learn about the practice of law.

          “It’s the appearance of conflict of interest.” Bullshit.

            1. I reasonably assume that the “canons” of the legal profession specifically address (the appearance of) conflict of interest.

              1. It is not a matter of conflict involving the legal profession per se. It is a conflict between one job (advising college students potentially involving sexual abuse and rape) and another job (defending someone accused of sexual abuse and rape). There’s no point in looking for this in the legal statutes. It only involves whether his bosses at Harvard regard his taking of the second job as a poor choice given his earlier and ongoing commitment to advise students.

                As I’ve said, it is doubtful that this conflict would be a reasonable justification for Harvard to fire him from his professorship. In this the students are dead wrong. It is Sullivan’s extra role as adviser to students we’re talking about here.

    2. If we start mobbing lawyers and getting them to stop defending people we don’t approve of, how long before the right to counsel is hollow?

      1. In general I agree but in this case, Sullivan’s participation in Weinstein’s defense conflicts with an earlier and ongoing commitment to Harvard and its students.

        1. You keep saying that, Paul, but what is the nature of the supposed “conflict”? A lawyer’s representation of a specific client in a specific case in no way constrains the lawyer’s conduct in any other case or matter. A lawyer representing a client does not thereby express a personal opinion endorsing the client’s position. Indeed, it is unethical for the lawyer to do so.

          The only argument can be that there is an appearance of a conflict on the part people completely misconstruing the role of a lawyer.

          1. The conflict is between the nature of the Weinstein case and his role as adviser to students potentially dealing with similar offenses but on the other side of them. A lawyer must advocate for his client. The conflict I am talking about is not a matter of legal ethics or a legal matter at all. It certainly doesn’t “misconstrue” his role as a lawyer. Every member of the defense team is expected to be an advocate for the client. We all know that, right? To argue that he’s not involved with the sexual abuse or rape parts of the defense is just a ridiculous splitting of hairs. To argue that he can compartmentalize is to ignore human nature. Even if he can compartmentalize, why should the students be put in a position where they depend on his ability to do that? Finally, since the students’ reaction could easily be predicted, why didn’t Sullivan check with Harvard before taking the case? To not do so is another ignoring of human nature.

        2. The Chronicle of Higher Education article by Kennedy describes the duties of a faculty dean in the first paragraph: “Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. is the faculty dean of Winthrop House, one of the 12 undergraduate dormitories in which most students live during their final three years at Harvard College. The faculty deans are mentors, guardians, and counselors — truly in loco parentis. They are responsible for their house’s overall social environment and manage a staff charged with facilitating the well-being of the students.”

          It’s Sullivan’s responsibility for the well-being of the students in the House that is the issue. His relationship with the House undergraduates is not that of professor/student but of mentor/resident.

          1. Gabriell, I am not sure whether your comment was intended as a reply to me. I agree 100% with what you say here. It is Sullivan’s role as mentor/resident that is in conflict with his position on Weinstein’s defense team, not his law professorship. This is why his main position at the university should not be in jeopardy. The students are way off base to ask for him to be dismissed.

  17. I have no idea of a dean should be active at the side, but as for all teachers it should go towards strengthening the education.

    And the rest of the furor seems too easily dismissive of legal practice. Combined with some scared reactions from the university – is it Harvard or Hare-ward?

  18. “At Monday’s rally, students stood in front of Massachusetts Hall with tape over their mouths.”

    One could hope that means they were going to shut up. But sadly, we know that’s not ever gonna happen.


  19. The more serious and reprehensible the crime that a person is charged with the more important it is that that person has access to a proper defence and a fair trial. I remember being shocked when the late Senator Cain, speaking in London on a BBC programme, asserted that the inmates at Guantanamo Bay did not deserve a trial because ‘they were terrorists’.

    Weinstein faces credible charges of having behaved in a vile and abusive way for years and if found guilty deserves serious punishment but just as everyone else he is ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and deserves a fair trial which means having access to a proper, competent defence. Any lawyer who defends him is no more guilty of crime by association than would a physician who treats Weinstein should he become ill. It is part of the job.

    1. I completely disagree with your physician analogy. Defending someone in a crime requires that you suspend your own feelings about the crime and mount a vigorous defense. A physician treating his medical ailment has no connection to the case whatsoever. Of course, if Weinstein was accused of raping the physician’s daughter, he should recuse himself.

  20. As some above have already said, I also have mixed feelings on this one. On the one hand I can understand the student’s concerns, on the other, I think their stated justifications for those concerns are troubling.

    As far as understanding their concerns – I think “conduct unbecoming”, conflict of interest, etc., has always been a thing in our culture. I’m not saying these are comparable examples, but just to come up with *an example – we generally frown on teachers working nights at strip clubs; animal rights activists earning money on the side by defending factory farms, and so on. You can do something that is perfectly legal but not perfectly in line with your job, and in general this is something that we understand. Jerry, I understand what you are saying about OJ Simpson, but as you said, you had valid reasons to worry about the science being treated properly and there are a small number of experts who could actually perform that function. Acting as Weinstein’s defense is a bit different though.

    That said, the students do not lay out an argument about how wearing one hat might impact Sullivan’s ability to operate effectively in another (as someone mentioned upthread, knowing he dug up dirt about people accusing Weinstein of sexual misconduct could indeed have a chilling effect on females students discussing sexual misconduct with him.) Instead they say that he should not be defending *anyone accused of sexual misconduct (I mean what if it was a minority student and there was reason to believe they were unfairly accused?), and that he is promoting rape culture by merely offering someone a fair defense – which presumably means that *anyone who defends someone convicted of sexual misconduct is “promoting rape culture”. THAT part is quite chilling and absolutely totalitarian. It’s essentially saying that if you are ‘bad enough’, you do not deserve fair legal representation. Do these students understand what that attitude has led to in the past? Saying that rights are only doled out to “good people” is essentially the mindset of a theocracy.

    1. “…the students do not lay out an argument about how wearing one hat might impact Sullivan’s ability to operate effectively in another…”

      Indeed. What they do demonstrate is their own inability to even imagine dispassionate professionalism.

  21. “can’t abide the idea of a defense attorney defending someone accused of sexual misconduct—even though he’s defended other people who don’t seem so reprehensible”

    And, on the other hand, he’s defended people accused of murder.

    But then [sarcasm mode ON] we all know that murder, maybe even serial murder, isn’t nearly as objectionable a crime as sexual misconduct.
    We don’t see any woke squawks about that.

    I suspect this is because murder victims are, by definition, dead and can’t be cross-examined, so defending the accused doesn’t involve further oppressing the alleged/wannabe victims by questioning their claims.


    1. Also, the murder defenses are in the past whereas the Weinstein defense is current. That makes a difference. Harvard presumably knew what cases Sullivan had been involved with in the past so that knowledge was incorporated into the decision to put Sullivan in position of advisement to the students.

  22. I’d say that a pack of rabid hounds has been unleashed, but that would be unfair to dogs.

  23. However heinous the offenses Weinstein is charged with, he is entitled to a defense in court and the best judgment he can obtain. Whatever Sullivan’s reasons may have been for taking the case, unless Harvard has legal restrictions whereby Sullivan could only take the case by leaving Harvard, Sullivan is free to take on the case. The “woke” crowd mobilize for whatever reason, but might view the situation differently if they were the defendants in a court case in our justice system.

    1. Just because you can get away with something does not mean it is right. Don’t let the craziness of the woke blind you to the sleaziness going on here.

  24. Since many people want to get into Harvard, the administration should just offer to help them fill out their transfer papers and otherwise ignore them. See how that goes with them. Nobody forcing them to be there.

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