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Harvard’s Flawed Response to Ronald Sullivan Joining Weinstein’s Defense Team

The criticism of Harvard Law Professor Ronald Sullivan by some student activists for his decision to join the defense team of Harvey Weinstein, and the ongoing response of Harvard University to that criticism, raise important concerns about the ability of Harvard to maintain an intellectual environment of high integrity.

This still evolving story weaves together four themes that are hardly unique to Harvard: the #MeToo movement and how universities should respond to it; the conflict between that movement and some fundamental principles of American jurisprudence; the approach of universities to the education and emotional comfort of their students; and how university leaders should respond when threats are made to their core institutional values. The concatenation of these issues in the Sullivan affair threatens to create a toxic brew.

The story begins with Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., a man of remarkable accomplishment. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School (HLS) where he served as President of the Harvard Black Law Students Association. Following graduation, he directed the Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia, practiced white collar litigation in two major D.C. law firms, and was a member of the Yale Law Faculty. He then joined the HLS faculty, where he is now faculty director of the Harvard Criminal Justice Institute. His expertise covers criminal law and procedure, legal ethics and race theory, and his career combines teaching, some research and substantial legal practice. An advisor on legal policy to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, Sullivan was described in a Huffington Post headline as “The Man Who Dealt the Biggest Blow to Mass Incarceration.” During his career, he has represented many vulnerable clients, including the family of Michael Brown whose death stimulated the Black Lives Matter Movement. He stands as an extraordinary role model for Harvard students, and in particular black students for whom the provision of inspiring faculty role models is an explicit University goal.

The first chapter in the current story relates to another outstanding black professor, Roland G. Fryer, Jr., a superstar Professor of Economics, a recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant” and one of the youngest ever tenured economics professor at Harvard. Fryer has been the subject of an investigation over the past year for possible Title IX violations, a case that has garnered broad media attention. (Two alternative views of this investigation can be read here and here.) The Harvard Crimson quoted Sullivan as criticizing the investigation, alleging that Harvard investigators acted without “a semblance of due process or presumption of innocence,” a point he was well qualified to make. He further stated: “It shows what the current [#MeToo] movement, some blood in the water, and good coaching [of witnesses] can produce.” Although unrelated, his statement calling into question Title IX procedures was soon followed by a media announcement that he had joined the defense team of Harvey Weinstein, who is due to stand trial for several sexual offenses. With these two events, Sullivan could now be portrayed as an enemy of the #MeToo movement, an accusation that has proven perilous for many individuals.

The second chapter relates to an additional role held by Sullivan, that of faculty dean of Winthrop House, one of 12 dormitories for Harvard undergraduates. The positions (formerly known as Masters) involve living in the houses with your family. Alongside their academic positions, the faculty deans oversee student life in the house and are responsible for the staff and the overall social environment. Ideally, they are role models and mentors to a diverse student body. Sullivan made history as the first black faculty dean at Harvard and four years ago his term was extended for a second five years.

When the news of Sullivan’s role in the Weinstein case broke, he was criticized by #MeToo activists, the Association of Black Harvard Women and in a Harvard Crimson editorial. A Change.org petition demanded his resignation as dean and others have called for the Harvard administration to forcibly remove him from the post if he doesn’t remove himself. The justification for these demands is that his legal advocacy for Weinstein is itself inconsistent with his role as faculty dean. Though it stopped short of demanding his resignation, the Crimson argued that because of Sullivan’s role in Weinsteins’s defense he would not be able to discharge his responsibility “to promote a safe and comfortable environment for victims of sexual misconduct and assault in his capacity as faculty dean.”

The Association of Black Harvard Women argued that Sullivan’s involvement in Weinstein’s defense “will only work to embolden rape culture on this campus.” Not surprisingly, the chain of reasoning that led to this alarming conclusion was not disclosed, prompting the eminent black HLS Professor Randall Kennedy to refer to it as “reckless,” and lacking “any theory, much less evidence, supporting it.”

Two important issues require analysis: the role of defense attorneys in our system of jurisprudence, and the role of faculty deans in the life of the University. Regarding the former, Sullivan made a robust case on his own behalf in an email to the Winthrop community:

Every citizen charged with a crime is cloaked with the presumption of innocence. It is particularly important for this category of unpopular defendant to receive the same process as everyone else—perhaps even more important. To the degree we deny unpopular defendants basic due process rights we cease to be the country we imagine ourselves to be.

During his career, Sullivan has defended both those who were guilty and not guilty, all at the mercy of the flaws of an imperfect legal system. These facts are well known to any interested observer. Students demanding his ouster have difficulty making the essential distinction between a lawyer and his client.

The approach of universities, including Harvard, to meeting the needs of their students is another part of this story, one that has dramatically changed over recent decades. When I attended college between 1964–68, a time of intense student activism related to the Vietnam War, administrators were typically seen as a source of difficulty for students, rarely to be trusted. It would have been impossible to imagine wanting them to act in loco parentis—as caretakers of our well-being. Between then and now, much has changed. Though students may still be wary of administrators, they (and their parents) nonetheless expect close care-taking by administrators to create a welcoming and attentive environment.

The 12 Harvard “houses” are where many undergraduates live during their last three years at the University, and faculty deans play a key role in house life. Since the position entails living among the students, and taking responsibility for many aspects of their non-academic lives, those assuming these positions must be greatly interested in student life and welfare. They should also serve as role models. But this case raises many important issues, starting with the one that initiated this furor. Is Sullivan’s professional role on the Weinstein defense team “trauma-inducing,” producing “fear and hurt in victims of the crimes that Weinstein is accused of,” as the Change.org petition maintains? Would this be a good reason for him to relinquish his role as dean? It has become commonplace for student activists to invoke “trauma” and “violence” when exposed to ideas or opinions they find objectionable, and to argue that universities have a responsibility to clamp down on the expression of heterodox views or risk being complicit in creating an “unsafe” environment for students. I have little sympathy for that position.

In response to some students’ concerns, Sullivan identified another member of the Winthrop House team as a primary contact should residents have sexual assault-related concerns. But was that necessary? Randall Kennedy addressed this in a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The skills, capacities, and dispositions that help to make a person a valued defense counsel are also the skills, capacities, and dispositions that help to make a person a valued faculty dean. These features include poise, close listening, mastery of relevant information, and a willingness and ability to safeguard the rights of all sorts of people, including outsiders, the ostracized and, indeed, the villainous… The opportunity for students to have as their mentor, counselor, and friend a person with that range of experiences and skills is extraordinary. It should not be squandered.

If Professor Kennedy is right, as I believe him to be, what needs addressing is not Sullivan’s legal advocacy, but the confusion of this group of students. They need to better understand the role of criminal defense in humane jurisprudence, and the distinction between those accused of crimes and the lawyers who defend them. There is an unfortunate tendency among contemporary political activists to demonize people with whom they disagree, a general feature of our increasingly polarized society, fueled by social media. It is both deeply ironic, and especially tragic, that Ronald Sullivan, who has earned the respect and admiration of the legal community—an example of black achievement at the highest level of academia and law—is being treated in this way.

What about the University’s response? Apart from Kennedy’s powerful piece and a few isolated tweets, there has been no official, institutional response from Harvard in support of Sullivan, although some other faculty have spoken up in his defense, many of them quoted in a recent piece about the brouhaha in the Atlantic. Sources tell me that a large number of HLS faculty penned a strong confidential letter defending Sullivan and sent it to University leaders, but so far it hasn’t received a reply. Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana met with Sullivan, after which he told the Crimson: “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 “communicated that that the College believes that more work must be done to uphold our commitment to the well-being of our students”— hardly a ringing endorsement of Professor Sullivan. He later announced a “climate survey” to assess the state of the Winthrop House community, an approach that, at a moment like this, seems to empower those seeking Sullivan’s removal.

What about Harvard’s other leaders? So far, they have said nothing. It is likely that back room discussions are dominated by institutional defensiveness, concerns about legal and communications matters, and barely concealed fear, given the explosive nature of such issues at other campuses. Title IX controversies are a constant concern, at Harvard and elsewhere, and Harvard has made serious mistakes in the past. The University now employs a large and increasingly complex organization to deal with claims of unwelcome environment, harassment and assault, as well as issues of “diversity and belonging,” a newly articulated goal now permeating the University. While diversity, belonging and sexual assault are unquestionably important issues, they are tangential to this situation, which concerns a respected faculty member whose supposed transgression is participating in the legal representation of an unpopular defendant. Perhaps the administration should strike a better balance between addressing student concerns and supporting a distinguished faculty member whose advisory role is being inappropriately questioned.

What might we expect in the near future? After due consideration, Harvard’s leaders might offer a robust defense of Professor Sullivan, pointing out the distinction between defender and accused, and celebrating Sullivan’s service as a role model for legal scholarship and practice as well as diversity and inclusion at Harvard. They might use this as a “teachable moment” for a balanced discussion of the #MeToo movement and the tension between giving women who claim to be survivors of sexual assault the benefit of the doubt—#BelieveWomen—and the presumption of innocence, as well as the tendency of student activists to condemn as morally abhorrent those they disagree with, and the lack of critical thinking by some members of Harvard’s community. Unfortunately, the most likely scenario is that when the climate survey of Winthrop House has been carried out the University will remove Professor Sullivan from his role as faculty dean, perhaps pretending it has nothing to with his presence on Weinstein’s legal team. The message will be sent, and it will be heard, loud and clear.

Should this be the outcome, the damage will not be to the reputation of Professor Sullivan, whose accomplishments will remain for all to see, at least to fair-minded people. Rather, it will have the unintended consequence of limiting true diversity and inclusion at this great university, on whose faculty I have proudly served for 41 years. That would not benefit the Harvard community. 

However, a positive result could emerge from this outcome. The shameful treatment of this outstanding faculty member and Harvard’s apparent acceptance of the notion that its students require “protection” from challenging ideas, might finally provoke an inflection point in the unwelcome march towards irrationality and group-think now underway at our leading universities. Such an inflection would require faculty and administrators to speak out forcefully for an environment in which diverse scholars and students can interact in a mature and respectful manner, without fear that their words and actions will be seen as inducing trauma, something they’ve proved reluctant to do so far.

In researching this piece, I reached out to many faculty, including several at HLS. All were passionate in agreeing that this episode speaks poorly of Harvard and its current values. Randall Kennedy told me he regrets what he now sees as his own complacency in response to similar events in the past, where he convinced himself they were “one-offs,” or that others would speak up. No longer, he says.

I can find no better ending to this article than the closing words of Kennedy in his piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education. His essay concluded:

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.

I enthusiastically concur, and implore my colleagues to speak out on this issue. Much hangs in the balance. Silence is complicity.


Jeffrey S. Flier, M.D. is Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, and Higginson Professor of Medicine and Neurobiology. He is a former dean of Harvard Medical School.

Photo by lev radin / Shutterstock.

76 Comments

  1. Calvin Ho says

    What is this piece trying to do? Attack Harvard for deciding not to say anything substantive about the issue or not immediately jumping to the defence of the Professor? The author says

    “Unfortunately, the most likely scenario is that when the climate survey of Winthrop House has been carried out the University will remove Professor Sullivan from his role as faculty dean, perhaps pretending it has nothing to with his presence on Weinstein’s legal team. The message will be sent, and it will be heard, loud and clear.”…

    but excuse me for withholding judgment until I actually see that that’s the case.

    • y81 says

      Attacking Harvard for not immediately jumping to the defense of a lawyer who represents an unpopular criminal defendant is entirely appropriate.

      • prince says

        +1000

        So simple. Trivial. There is no fact finding needed. This is a matter of basic principles.

        It is beyond disheartening that a leading educational institution lost its way and is wondering like a bind in the dark abyss of social justice confusion.

  2. The author is analyzing this as though this were a reasonable and rational controversy. It’s like analyzing what 16th century church officials said of themselves when they were burning witches or murdering Jews or murdering each other for variations on religion.

    The short answer here is that is doesn’t matter what Harvard says of themselves, how they cloak this with the veneer of reason. That’s because this has absolutely nothing to do with reason and facts. To pretend it does is to fall into their delusion.

    The entire point is that they a) want to intimidate and shut down and threaten any African American who strays from their assigned role as victim of the patriarchy (since any African American who strays and is successful is a living exemplar of its fallacy) and b) want to shut down and intimidate and threaten any deviation at all from the narrative that there is a dogma of hierarchy of victimhood that must never ever ever be questioned. Thus a black Harvard professor who dares to stray even by representing a man who is innocent until proven guilty, must be destroyed, since the white man is guilty already – he is white, he is a man, and he is accused – and thus to question this at all is to be complicit, exactly as to question whether Jesus is the son of God or whether the earth was not the center of the universe could get you killed. Debate and reason have no place here. The priests won’t listen at best; at worst the very act of debating will make you a heretic too.

    We must call them out for what they are: power hungry fanatics, using the weapons of shame, fear, bullying, threats, hysteria, to get what they want (more power). They are dangerous.

    • @ d

      Very well said.

      If these are law students, good luck getting a decent lawyer in twenty years time.

    • Barney Doran says

      Great comment, but here is what I don’t understand. How can a casual reader of Quillettte (if I can call you that) have a more incisive and thorough understanding of a situation in their own backyard than the supposedly great minds hired and paid well by Harvard University?

      • TarsTarkas says

        Because our anonymous livelihoods not to mention our safety don’t depend on us parroting the party line. They understand the situation quite well. We are in the throes of a Savonarola style book and witch burning episode, and until the leaders of this mob are hounded and pilloried the way they do their victims de jour, it won’t end.

    • Harland says

      Harvey Weinstien, like most men accused by the #metoo movement, is not white but Jewish.

    • Redliana says

      I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment. A desire for victimhood and blame apportionment does little to further anyone, but rather creates an unbreachable chasm between the “victims” and “perpetrators”.

  3. bumble bee says

    While I agree with Sullivan regarding the law, I did not see anything mentioned about whether Sullivan was getting paid for his services. Maybe I missed something, and correct me if I did, but the issue I have with Sullivan is not that he chose to work on this case, but that a powerful man, Weinstein, now has a powerful lawyer.

    Looking at the fact that those in need of a lawyer, and especially those facing jail time, rarely find or can afford a good lawyer, having him specifically defend Weinstein allows money and power to enter the process. Can we assume that those victims and the DA are able to provide the same quality representation? The same resources to prove their case against Weinstein?

    We have all seen how a good defense attorney can make or break a case. We have the OJ trial, as well as other not so publicly known like Jeffery Epstein or R. Kelly who have both faced prior charges and won, only to find themselves again in the same position in the future. Even today there is ambiguity with the Michael Jackson trials where great legal minds had gotten him off.

    This is more about money, power, privilege and access to the best. This is not about whether Sullivan should be associated with the defendant. This is not about legal guilt or innocence either, but about the ability for the truth to come out clearly so that juries can understand and come to a verdict. Just as lawyers use Voir Dire to get the jury they want, where is the same type of “discriminating” process when great lawyers come up against not so great DA’s?

    • Ray Andrews says

      Yup. Money too often buys you the verdict you want.

    • Michael Johnston says

      Bumble bee, for you this incident might not be “about whether Sullivan should be associated with the defendant”, but for those organising the petition against him it most assuredly is. Even a casual perusal of the petition makes it pretty clear that what they’re objecting to is an association between Sullivan as House Dean, and Weinstein.

      The point you raise is a valid one: It is unjust that the very wealthy can afford legal representatives who can sometimes have them acquitted of crimes that less wealthy defendants would be convicted of. However, in this case, raising that is a red herring because this manifestly not what the petitioners are complaining about. Neither is it what the author is addressing, which is that Harvard University is derelicting its duty. It’s senior academics and administrators have failed to take an opportunity to educate their students regarding the full importance and implications of the assumption of innocence. More egregiously in my view, they are betraying the intellectual mission of the university by continuing to coddle what are presumably the best minds of their students’ generation (with apologies to Haidt and Ginsberg).

    • Eero says

      Manhattan DA’s office is one of the if not the most prestigious, well-financed, and effective DA’s offices in the country, attracting the best talent as far as prosecutors go (except when corrupt political decisions are made at the top, like Cy Vance declining to pursue charges against Weinstein prior to his #MeToo downfall from power…)

      The lead prosecutor in the Harvey Weinstein case is Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, who was sadly not a great politician when I worked closely on her 2015 campaign running for DA of her home borough Staten Island, but she now has 31 years experience and stellar record as ADA in the Manhattan DA’s office under both DAs Robert Morgenthau & Cy Vance-two Democrats both of whom heaped praise and de facto endorsed Republican Illuzzi in the SI DA race.

      ‘Twas Staten Island’s loss, but losing that election and re-hired in Manhattan immediately by Cy Vance to keep her in the courtroom was perhaps for the best. After 2015 trial ended with one lone holdout juror causing a hung jury, when Illuzzi got back in 2017 retrial she finally secured a conviction in the high-profile case of 1979 Etan Patz murder.

      Although it’s seemingly a prerequisite to be appointed to SCOTUS or to become a corporate Big Law partner, an Ivy League Harvard degree doesn’t necessarily mean anything about how good a lawyer (or any profession) is. Despite only a humble law degree from St. John’s University, nevertheless there’s a reason Cy Vance immediately offered Joan Illuzzi her job back in Manhattan DA’s office and subsequently chose her to lead the Harvey Weinstein case.

    • david of Kirkland says

      Because the state is poor? Because the rich have money they don’t need good representation?

    • ga gamba says

      Looking at the fact that those in need of a lawyer, and especially those facing jail time, rarely find or can afford a good lawyer,

      Can you support that assertion? It’s a “fact” after all. Let’s see it. Also, how do you define a “good lawyer” and it is measurable? Would you look at winning percent? A lawyer could game that by selecting more winnable cases, kind of like how elected prosectors go after surer things so they can cite their success rate in their political campaigns. In the US, lawyers have to pass the bar examination. This means they are knowledgeable about law. Are you asserting this test doesn’t measure this? And how are these lawyers unfindable?

      Of course, there are some things a test won’t measure, such as rhetorical gifts, charisma, and ownership of a sharp suit. Happiness/unhappiness with one’s career, too. Maybe they bought into the fiction of Ally McBeal and are depressed to find there’s very little singing and dancing at work.

      After passing the bar many specialise, so a tax attorney is better suited to address a client’s tax needs and criminal defence lawyer specialising in drug offences is a good one to hire for a person busted dealing. I wouldn’t want to hire a personal injury lawyer if I was arrested transporting 50 kilos of cocaine in my car. Most attorneys aren’t litigators.

      In the US about 11 million people are arrested annually, and of those arrested 2.3 million are jailed or imprisoned – roughly 21%. Drug offences are easy to prosecute because about 95% arrested are caught red-handed. I suppose a better defence lawyer here is one who can obtain reduced charges or administrative punishment. Other crimes are much more difficult to prosecute, or, looking at it from another perspective, easier to defend.

      the issue I have with Sullivan is not that he chose to work on this case, but that a powerful man, Weinstein, now has a powerful lawyer.

      This issue you have confuses me. It seems that you are comparing Weinstein to other defendants, specifically those who have fewer resources. But Weinstein isn’t competing against other defendants, is he? He’s facing the state, an institution that has a lot of resources at its disposal. Further, in high-profile cases such as his the state lets loose with those resources; all institutions have finite resources, but at times some cases, especially ones that the public has a lot of emotion about and are particularly attentive to, the purse is opened wider.

      It appears to me you’ve fallen for the unless-things-are-exactly-equal-across-all-dimensions-and-if-not-it’s-unfair-and-maybe-even-unjust argument. This is a fantasy. But, if you wanted to make things more equal, a place to start is by restricting each side to the same budget, for example $10,000. As a result, I suspect the state would have fewer victories though, because all that police investigation, forensic analysis, etc. is costly.

    • Bumble bee, these protesters will make it even harder in the future for people, “facing jail time ” to secure representation. They are basically saying if We think you’re guilty, than you don’t deserve defense.

    • E. Olson says

      BB – Sullivan also represented the Michael Brown family, which clearly wasn’t a big money case. From what I understand, good lawyers often use their big paydays from representing rich people like Weinstein so that they can regularly also represent low/no paying clients in need of good legal representation.

      • ga gamba says

        It makes no difference whether Weinstein is paying him zero dollars or a gorillion dollars.

        The objection is that Sullivan is defending him.

        People get emotional about money, so the mention of it is a vector of attack to cast aspersions on the judicial system to call it into disrepute. Weinstein is useful to this end because in many, many ways he’s a very unsympathetic character. The erosion of rights and freedoms for everyone start by targeting unlikeable people. Take a look at the history of asset forfeiture prior to the court finding the accused guilty. Many states have a lot freedom to do so. “We’re seizing the assets of the mafia and drug dealers. You don’t support those heinous people, do ya?” Soon enough other people’s assets are seized, and it ends up falling on the middle and working-class. “Golly, how did that happen?”

        It’s not a bug, it’s a feature of authoritarianism.

  4. Everyone knows that only a witch could defend a witch. Everyone knows that a woman would never falsely accuse someone of witchcraft. Harvard is just returning to its Puritan roots.

    • Glad to know I am not the only one who sees the left’s Puritanesque tactics. They are appalled when I point it out. Lol.

      • TarsTarkas says

        Because no true Scotsman would ever stoop to lying.

  5. Farris says

    “he would not be able to discharge his responsibility “to promote a safe and comfortable environment for victims of sexual misconduct and assault in his capacity as faculty dean.”

    Specious circular reasoning. Any plaintiff or complainant can claim the defendant poses a threat to safety simply by virtue of the fact the defendant has yet to be adjudged.

    “….a large number of HLS faculty penned a strong confidential letter defending Sullivan and sent it to University leaders,….”

    Nothing like the force of a confidential letter. This is well written article. However it is somewhat disheartening that the article’s defense is predicated more on the upstanding character of Mr. Sullivan and less on the ideal of the presumption of innocence. Relying on Mr. Sullivan’s high character begs the question would the author be equally passionate about a lesser renowned colleague or a colleague who is not an acquaintance?

    • Stephanie says

      @Farris,

      It seems odd to me that Sullivan should be praised for representing Michael Brown’s family but should not be scorned for defending Harvey Weinstein.

      If the client isn’t representative of the lawyer, shouldn’t both be irrelevant? The author (and probably many of Sullivan’s defenders) seem to want to have their cake and eat it too.

      This reads as if Sullivan had racked up enough ideological purity points to get away with defending Weinstein.

    • prince says

      If this is a matter of safety then surely the use of physical force is justified in order to neutralize the threat.

      The logical path forward has now been cleared.

      Violence is the proper way to combat the menace of words and keep us all safe.

  6. Thomas Barnidge says

    In the OJ (Simpson) trial, race trumped gender. In this case, gender appears to trump race on the intersectionality scale. Pay back? I don’t think this is what “equality under the law” is understood to be by the non-woke public, i.e., every favored group gets a freebie.

    • y81 says

      Race trumps gender on the street. Hence the black women in battered women’s shelters cheering for OJ. Gender trumps race in the academy and in the salons of the chattering classes. Hence the concern at OJ’s acquittal in faculty lounges and country club dining rooms.

  7. Thomas Barnidge says

    In the OJ (Simpson) trial, gender had to take a backseat to race to get an acquittal. In this case, it appears that race has to take a backseat to gender. Pay back? I don’t think granting freebies to whatever intersectional group thinks is due one is what the non-woke call “equality under the law.”

  8. Peter from Oz says

    It should be clear that if Harvard were to announce loudly and publicly that those calling for Sullivan’s dismissal are misguided and totally wrong, then the vast majority of observers would cheer.
    But for some strange reason too many institutions today are more frightened of the left-wing moonbats than they are of the majority. So the powers that be end up appeasing the extremist lefties in the mistaken belif that this will stop the agitation.
    Personally, I think the students who are calling for Sullivan’s dismissal should themselves be subject to discipline. They are obvioulsy too stupid to remain at a prestigious college like Harvard if they cannot tell the difference between a defendant and his lawyer.

    • Richard says

      The “strange reason” is that there are a lot more “moonbats” than you realise, and they are very powerful. They can make or break someone’s career on Twitter and impose a non-appealable life sentence.

      • After 40 years of neoliberalism, where market values rule the roost, 18 year olds arriving on campus are no longer students, they are customers — and the customer is always rihgt.

        • TarsTarkas says

          The problem is too many of them aren’t paying customers, they are free riders. Parents or more frequently the taxpayers are who’s paying their way. So it should come as no surprise that they don’t value what they aren’t paying for. And because they have plenty of energy and plenty of free time (plus a high opinion of themselves due to too much praise for inconsequential deeds), the Devil (metaphorically speaking) finds ready and willing hands to do evil.

      • curiositas says

        Also, the “moonbats” are often dedicated enough to the task that they’ll stop at nothing to destroy a person’s reputation and/or livelihood. The more reasonable majority of the public, on the other hand, are normal people with real lives, who aren’t going to devote themselves to causing an uproar with a matching level of zeal.

        In short, content people generally have better things to do with their time — malcontents don’t.

    • E. Olson says

      Peter – at Harvard (and most universities) the Left-Wing Moonbats are the vast majority. It is interesting to speculate what the University response would be if Sullivan were white, and/or conservative, and/or had a history of working for high visibility clients hated by Left-Wing Moonbats (i.e. big “dirty” corporations, the Charlottesville “Nazis”, “sexist” James Damore). Based on the U.Penn response to Amy Wax, I’m guessing that a white, conservative Sullivan would have lost his deanship and been regulated to a “non-student contact” position within 48 hours after the first student protest against him.

      • y81 says

        I don’t think that’s right. Grade-grubbing careerists are probably the plurality, with kids looking to have a good time without working hard a close second. There are only a small number of politically active or concerned students. Those who are conservative know that open advocacy will get them in trouble with the faculty and even moreso the administration (which will spoil both the grade-grubbing and the party hearty agendas); those who are on the left receive considerable encouragement and support from the faculty and administration (which in some courses may help the grade-grubbers).

    • Stephenitisok says

      If these are the cream of American students attending university today I cry now and I fear for the future.

    • JWatts says

      “But for some strange reason too many institutions today are more frightened of the left-wing moonbats than they are of the majority.”

      Frightened? No, I think they are sympathetic to the extreme Left. Most Universities lean strongly to the Left. Granted it took a long time for the old school administrators to get pushed out, but at this point the old guard is gone. This is what the new guard acts like. I see no reason to presume they aren’t acting to their own effect.

      • y81 says

        Exactly. Suggesting that university administrators are somehow cowed by left-wing student demonstrators is like suggesting that the Nazis were cowed by the Kristallnacht mobs. People like Salovey and Wagner (at Emory) are committed leftists who want to purge their universities and faculties and use the activist students the same way Napoleon used Jessie’s puppies.

  9. @Jeffrey S. Flier

    “In researching this piece, I reached out to many faculty, including several at HLS. All were passionate in agreeing that this episode speaks poorly of Harvard and its current values.”

    Perhaps, Dr. Flier, you might also like to reach out to Harvard’s many wealthy donors and invite them – not merely to comment – but to withhold future donations of money until such time as Harvard’s values improve?

    You could stop donating yourself. Actions, speaking louder than words.

  10. Erika Reily says

    This is a good piece but focuses too much on what a super great guy Sullivan is. Doesn’t matter and lends credence to the subjective feelings over universal principles problem that is infecting Western thought.

  11. Tersitus says

    Wasn’t it Harvard that fired Larry Summers for daring to speak truth to feminists? Check the quad for burrowing rabbits.

  12. ga gamba says

    Roland G. Fryer, Jr.

    I think it should have been mentioned that Prof Fryer had earlier put a very large target on himself by disputing BLM’s and progressives’ assertions about police shooting black people willy nilly.

    On the most extreme use of force – officer-involved shootings – we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account. (Source: https://scholar.harvard.edu/fryer/publications/empirical-analysis-racial-differences-police-use-force)

    Does this prove the allegations of sexual misconduct are false? No. It puts into context the man and the alleged incident. As we have seen repeatedly, those who run afoul of certain cherished beliefs find themselves targeted by the hyper motivated who use several kinds of tactics to smear the person as a way to dispute their work.

    When I read headlines such as Black Harvard Professor Who Claims Theres No Racial Bias in Police Shootings Is Under Investigation for Sexual Misconduct I wonder what’s the relevance of one to the other. Certainly Harvard Professor Is Under Investigation for Sexual Misconduct is the more appropriate headline. The journalist then uses 451 of the article’s 758 words (60%) to dispute the professor’s findings. (Source: https://www.diversityinc.com/black-harvard-professor-who-claims-theres-no-racial-bias-in-police-shootings-is-under-investigation-for-sexual-misconduct/)

    • Ray Andrews says

      @ga gamba

      “One 2003 study found that 75% of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation.”

      It seems the response to these things will be polar. Either it is shut down or, if it proceeds, the verdict is guilty automatically. Given the amount of trouble these ‘investigations’ cause, one can easily see why the administration would want to brush away complaints, especially since so many of them are frivolous or political or impossible to prove one way or the other. But, if the matter is pursued an acquittal would cause such a mobbing by the woke that an automatic ‘guilty’ is much safer.

  13. Sylv says

    To the young, smart, idealistic, passionate youth who represent the Hope of Tomorrow:

    If you have ever unironically used the term “Prison-Industrial Complex,” ever hoped for reform of a draconian criminal justice system, ever wondered why so many are in jail serving long sentences on so little evidence, then you simply must support the Presumption of Innocence, not just as an inconvenient legal technicality, but as a foundational principle. It is not some nasty little inconvenience that prevents you from living in a perfectly safe world. It is literally the only thing that prevents those with the power to do so from locking up whoever they choose and pressing them into labor. There are centuries worth of historical precedent for exactly that.

    • ga gamba says

      Amen.

      Presumption of innocence (POI) in the Anglosphere goes back more than 800 years to Magna Carta, goes back earlier to the Justinian Codes, and may have existed earlier in other societies, yet today many, including lawyers and lawyers-to-be, can’t get this idea through their noggin and lament some particular defendants’ ability to mount a vigorous defence. Moreover, many of these same characters decided to subvert the legal system by demanding universities create and convene tribunals to handle criminal matters because they could game the burden of proof and the right to question one’s accusers to be more favourable to preferred groups. The goal of this is not to limit it to campus. “It’s worked on campus for years, let’s implement it off campus too.”

      It seems to me adherence to the principle of POI ought to be a requirement for those who are and who desire to be lawyers. A rejection of this ought to be tantamount to malpractice and the person ought to be disbarred or removed from law school.

      • @ga gamba

        It seems to me adherence to the principle of POI ought to be a requirement for those who are and who desire to be lawyers. A rejection of this ought to be tantamount to malpractice and the person ought to be disbarred or removed from law school.

        You have not quite gone so far as to call for a loyalty oath to the principle of POI for lawyers, but you are tiptoeing up to the line, I think.

        POI is not so straightforward a thing in criminal law, for example, which is pertinent to this article. In fact, POI does not apply to defense attorneys at all. They can believe their clients are guilty. They can know their clients are guilty.

        Judges are also lawyers and they must presume innocence – and act as if they believe in it – while in the courtroom, and if they privately believe that every man who comes before them accused of a crime is most likely guilty, they still must, as a matter of ethics, not discuss or admit it publicly.

        Their actions on the bench are recorded and available for appellate review, so any judge who isn’t acting in accordance with POI – despite his personal beliefs – can be brought up short.

        There is no ethical difficulty – or should not be at any rate – if judges discuss their disapproval of POI as a general principle (never a case before them) privately among friends. Of course, if one of those friends makes the matter public, that can create problems. It’s what judges do and are seen to have done on the bench – not what they privately believe – that is a matter of public concern.

        Prosecuting attorneys cannot, as a practical matter, presume innocence. If they did, no one would ever be prosecuted for a crime. Their obligation is to proceed with prosecution if they have a good faith belief that they can prove to a jury’s satisfaction, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a criminal defendant is guilty. They also have an obligation to not cheat by presenting evidence they know to be false or hiding exculpatory evidence. But POI? No. Not when prosecution is going forward.

        If prosecutors weren’t presuming guilt at that point, the defendant would never see a jury.

        As for law students, they are required to know what POI is. They know they will be required to practice in accordance with POI if it becomes relevant to their work. But they are not required to believe that POI – or even democracy – is the best thing for human society.

        Neither are law students required to promise that they will never vote for politicians who intend to turn the US into a Marxist shit hole into which POI will be permanently flushed.

        Believe me, I’d like to keep the little creeps who do feel that way out of law school, but I simply can’t think of a way to do that without creating problems for law students of whom I actually approve.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @Morgan Foster

          ” But POI? No. Not when prosecution is going forward.”

          You miss the point sir. The prosecution attempts to prove guilt, but also understands that the burden is on him. If there is doubt the guy walks. That’s POI.

          “You have not quite gone so far as to call for a loyalty oath to the principle of POI for lawyers, but you are tiptoeing up to the line, I think. ”

          That’s a curious way to put it. Geometry students don’t swear a loyalty oath to Euclid, but they are taught that his postulates are the foundations of geometry and if they don’t agree with them, their progress will be problematical. If a lawyer or judge does not believe in POI they are rejecting one of the cornerstones of our legal system and who could trust their work? It would be something like a flat-earther teaching orbital mechanics. Can you teach something you do not believe? Better: can you honestly practice some doctrine that you do not support?

          • @Ray Andrews

            “You miss the point sir. The prosecution attempts to prove guilt, but also understands that the burden is on him. If there is doubt the guy walks. That’s POI.”

            I don’t fully agree with you.

            Yes, the prosecutor understands that the burden of proof is on him.

            But if there is doubt, it will be in the mind(s) of the “finder(s) of fact”. That will be a jury, or a judge in a bench trial.

            Not in the mind of the prosecutor.

            Let me put it this way; if a prosecutor does not believe (presume) GUILT, then how can he go forward with prosecution in good faith?

            If he has done his job well, he will have done so with such conviction that he will continue to believe the defendant is guilty even if the defendant is acquitted by a jury.

            “Can you teach something you do not believe? Better: can you honestly practice some doctrine that you do not support?”

            You have used both “believe” and “support”, so allow me to restate:

            “Can one honestly practice some doctrine that one does not believe in?”

            Yes, absolutely. We see it happening everyday, in every walk of life, not just at Harvard, and not just in courtrooms.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @Morgan Foster

            “Can one honestly practice some doctrine that one does not believe in?”

            “Yes, absolutely. We see it happening everyday, in every walk of life, not just at Harvard, and not just in courtrooms.”

            Ok, I concede that. But ironically it upsets you here:

            “Let me put it this way; if a prosecutor does not believe (presume) GUILT, then how can he go forward with prosecution in good faith? ”

            Because, just as you say, we see it every day in court. So, I am right, tho my reasoning was incorrect, and you are wrong, even tho you caught me in some poor reasoning. Of course OJ’s lawyers knew he was guilty, but they defended him as if they believed him innocent, because that’s how the system works. Prosecutors hold the same mentality, tho perhaps they should be more fair. But as it is, they presume guilt even though they understand that doubt goes to the accused. POI is only about that final fact, not about the roles of the prosecution or defense.

          • ga gamba says

            Well said, Ray.

            Even today prosecutors are being told to listen and believe and they succumb to public pressure. They need to scrutinise the evidence and statements, but then are accused of insensitivity because doing so makes the claimant ill at ease. This fails to prepare both the case and those who give testimony thoroughly.

            Doctors give oaths. I think lawyers, including prosecutors, ought to do so as well. “I presume the accused is innocent, and it’s my job to pursue the evidence given and discovered. If this assures me that he isn’t innocent, then I move forward. But I should not fear finding evidence that exonerates the accused.” If the prosecutor can pass his/her own burden of proof test, then it’s likely s/he has persuasive enough evidence to offer to the jury.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @ga gamba

        -Merit based advancement: dead and buried
        -Rational, evidence based inquiry and pedagogy: dead
        -FOS: gravely ill
        -POI: under severe attack

        What will be the next pillar of civilization to be kicked out?

        • ga gamba says

          Beyond a reasonable doubt replaced by whatever the gal says goes.

          And the combustion engine.

      • TarsTarkas says

        It goes back to when the Roman plebes forced the patricians to write down the laws so that every man understood what was the law and what lawful conduct was.

  14. Max says

    There is nothing quite like an education tempered over burning witches.

  15. Mike says

    I love it – a Jewish defendant demanding a black lawyer! What a shame Tom Wolfe is not around to see this.

    • Tersitus says

      Think he nailed it in Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flakcatchers.

  16. The campaign against Ronald Sullivan is clearly a campaign against the presumption of innocence and the right for an accussed to mount an effective defence. It is part of a general campaign against men with the intent to have a defacto presumption of guilt when accused by women and thereby place men and paticularilly influential men in jeopardy and thereby beholden to women not to accuse them.

    The good character and impressive achievements of Ronald Sullivan are irrelevant in principle but do make him a harder target. This actually makes the situation more frightening.

    I followed the links to the accusations against Roland G. Fryer and found these even more frightening. Even a track record of the accuser lying, witnesses including women of the supposed sexual harassment which say it was nothing of the sort and evidence of an ulterior motive were not sufficient protection. In other words even a Mike Pence stratgey is not sufficient protection for an innocent man.

    As a society we need to face up to the fact that Instituitional misandry and sexism against men has become a serious problem and needs to be addressed. However I see no sign of this and think any such campaign would be very diffiuclt because of cultural and biological factors which mean concenr for women will always outweigh impacts on men.

  17. Sounds to me like Sullivan benefitted from and supported the SJW world that is now turning on him.

  18. Peter Schaeffer says

    I read this essay and then wandered over to the Harvard Crimson to get a sense of what folks at Harvard are saying about it. The comments posted to the Harvard Crimson are pretty good (as you would expect). However, the comments (and articles) here are better. I did not expect that.

  19. Barney Doran says

    Harvard alumni: If you think this whole business stinks to high heaven, stop giving to the endowment fund. That might get some attention and influence thinking. Also might be a good lesson in free markets to these students, esp. the ones on scholarship.

    • @Barney Doran

      stop giving to the endowment fund

      I bring this up a lot, here and in other forums.

      You’re one of the few who have ever joined in. And I wish there were more of us.

  20. Itzik Basman says

    I agree with every word in this article. Flier is absolutely correct in every point he makes. And he exposes the abject pusillanimous quietism of many at Harvard and of institutional Harvard itself. The common sense of this piece is so eminently patent that I can imagine no critique Flier’s argument.

    What criticism could *reasonably* be made of it?

  21. It was not so much the presumption of innocence and defending an unpopular accused who is accused of a highly unpopular offence. The rebuttal of that is quite easy, as shown by the many comments above. Rather, the difficult issue is this:

    “The 12 Harvard “houses” are where many undergraduates live during their last three years at the University, and faculty deans play a key role in house life. Since the position entails living among the students, and taking responsibility for many aspects of their non-academic lives, those assuming these positions must be greatly interested in student life and welfare.”

    This is difficult because there are no rules or presumptions embedded in the law about what makes students uncomfortable when the professor is wearing his dean hat rather than wearing his defence lawyer hat. Discomfort is subjective, a feeling. Students can claim discomfort without there being any empirical verification, and discomfort is also a matter of degree. More fundamentally, why should students be immunized from discomfort while at university when they can’t be protected from discomfort in their real life after school?

    On the other hand, university administrations will not want to sound so callous as to say “So you are uncomfortable, get over it.” Or “I don’t believe you when you say you are uncomfortable, you shouldn’t be, and no reasonable person would be.” Thus, even if the administrators are sceptical about the degree of discomfort claimed, or how widespread it is, it is easier to remove one employee over whom they have control than to push back on a large number of student activists who are their “customers”. Hence the tendency to take the easy way out.

    The test of a good university is whether it takes the easy way out and throws their criticized employee under the bus, or whether it tells the activists that their university’s principles are against doing that. Time will tell what Harvard does, and whether it meets or fails the test.

  22. Julia says

    Students came to Harvard to get education, not to be protected from it or educate their professors. If some believe they already know everything better, they are welcome to leave. Education requires humility and is useless for them anyway.

  23. Andrew says

    A well written article and many insightful comments here. But I think we may be missing the forest from the trees. This is simply Deplatforming applied to the legal realm. And in the grand scheme of things, Weinstein is unimportant. He’s just a practice round for the Left’s public enemy #1 and they are still smarting from failure to take down Kavanaugh.
    Because of course if a sitting President is accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women he should be removed. I can’t even think of a time when the Left would’ve let that slide /s

  24. @Ray Andrews

    Sorry, but the page won’t let me reply to you directly under your comment today.

    “Prosecutors hold the same mentality, tho perhaps they should be more fair. But as it is, they presume guilt even though they understand that doubt goes to the accused. POI is only about that final fact, not about the roles of the prosecution or defense.”

    If I wrote anything above that misled you I apologize, but here is how it works with prosecutors and POI (simplified – and perhaps too much) in the US:

    A police officer goes to the prosecutor’s office (usually a deputy prosecutor) and presents the results of a police investigation into a criminal act.

    The prosecutor compares the facts alleged in the police report with the text of the criminal statutes and decides if those facts are sufficient to establish PROBABLE CAUSE (not beyond a reasonable doubt – in fact, far from it) to charge what is commonly called a criminal “information”, the formal charge.

    If the prosecutor believes that there is probable cause to charge the defendant with a crime – setting into motion a process that may result in a trial – he is obviously going to believe that the defendant is guilty.

    If the prosecutor does not believe the defendant is guilty, then we may infer that he does not believe he has probable cause to charge the crime in the first place.

    When the charge is filed, the prosecutor understands that there is a presumption of innocence – in the courtroom. But not in his office. Not in his mind, or in his heart.

    (Brief pause, here. At some point, the prosecutor will decide whether he can convince a jury to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If he has probable cause to believe that the defendant is guilty, but because of evidentiary problems he doesn’t think he can convince a jury to step from probable cause to beyond a reasonable doubt, he must drop the case – even though he still believes (presumes) the defendant is guilty. No prosecutor is going to go back to his office and tell his colleagues that because he had to drop the case, the office should presume the defendant is innocent. No one does that, ever.)

    The presumption of innocence in the US criminal justice system is a legal principle that guides the actions and behavior of all the parties IN THE COURTROOM.

    At the beginning of a trial, a prosecutor may tell the jury that THEY must presume the defendant is not guilty* until the evidence phase has ended. Prosecutors often do. (The judge will always do it.)

    The prosecutor does not TELL** the jury what he personally believes about the guilt of the defendant. (This is enough to cause a mistrial.)

    Even so – the jury knows very well that the prosecutor believes (presumes) guilt. And the jury would be astonished to think a prosecutor would call them to a trial if the prosecutor did not believe (presume) guilt.

    I don’t know what country you live in, or how attorneys in your country think of POI, but this is more or less – in terribly abbreviated form – the way of things in the US. It is an adversarial system, and designed that way.

    During trial, the judge and jury ACT*** upon a presumption of innocence. The prosecutor, never.

    As for POI outside of the courtroom, in personal life, in the way we deal with our families, friends and neighbors – well, that’s a very different thing altogether.

    (* In American courtrooms, the jury chooses between “guilty” and “not guilty”. Never “innocent”.)

    (**-*** There are strict rules about what a prosecutor may TELL a jury, and how they may ACT before a jury. Far too complex to go into here.)

  25. Pierre Pendre says

    The Weinstein trial will be an important test for movements like #MeToo and their power to destroy their victims in the court of hysteria … sorry, court of public opinion, media vilification standing in place of due process. It will be a blow to their future crediblity if Weinstein is acquitted. I don’t know how much hard evidence there is against him beyond the usual she said/he said and how it will withstand the cross-examination that Weinstein’s accusers can expect. But there are evidently some at Harvard who do not want to be associated, through Sullivan’s involvement, in a possible defeat for the women’s movement. If it were up to them and their creed that women must be believed, Weinstein wouldn’t get a trial at all. Since they can’ prevent that, they are going after a lawyer who is vulnerable to pressure because he’s also an academic. No doubt the outcome of the OJ trial is at the back of their minds. Unviersities have already ceded a lot of terrain to faminists and their extremist hangers-on. It would be a grave mistake to also give them the right to decide which lawyers can represent the accused in cases involving sexual misconduct.

    • @Pierre Pendre

      Sullivan is a senior and tenured professor in the Harvard School of Law. He is also married to a woman who is not only a Harvard Law School graduate herself, but is a current instructor at the Harvard School of Law in her own right.

      Fun fact: Sullivan was hired by Harvard’s then dean of the law school, Elena Kagan, currently a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, who was herself nominated by then President Barak Obama.

      Not surprisingly, Sullivan is well connected in Democratic Party circles. His racial identity is bullet-proof. So he is at a very “fuck-you, fuck-you, and fuck-you-too” stage of his career.

      There isn’t a white actress in Hollywood who can touch him, let alone a bunch of female faculty members from the social sciences.

  26. Geez. One would think that students admitted to HLS (it ain’t Yale, but still) arrive already understanding that, in America, even bad guys have a right to due process. This means an opportunity to mount a defense in court after being charged with a crime.

    Said shorter, when the state puts a defendant in the dock, newspaper headlines don’t settle the matter.

    Ronald Sullivan doesn’t have to prove his bona fides to anybody, including ignorant law students.
    Pretending that his work on behalf of Michael Brown’s family somehow purifies him — as if he needed such — is just more sloppy thinking.

    Savanarola is alive and well in Cambridge, apparently.

  27. Matt says

    Who taught the students to behave like this? Could the professors be at fault here? And it seems there is a pattern of bad student behave across universities where the administration is sympathetic.

    It appears that most western universities are compromised. One often can’t trust university research results, especially true in the social sciences. But look at how the economics department is compromised as most economists completely missed the 2008 crash. And look at how international relations experts got China wrong and Russia wrong.

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