A Harvard professor is under fire for being part of Harvey Weinstein’s defense team. Faculty dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr. is part of the disgraced movie mogul’s legal defense team on sexual assault charges. Sullivan’s decision has generated protests and calls for his removal as well as a ‘climate’ review at Winthrop House, the residential house at Harvard where he is the faculty dean. The Dean of the College, Rakesh Khurana, addressed these issues in an email to house affiliates this week.
“When climate concerns arise in a faculty-led unit, the College and the FAS have procedures in place to gather additional information to assess the situation and to provide confidentiality to those participating in the information gathering process,” he wrote. “In this situation, we would like to have a more complete understanding of the current environment at Winthrop House.”
Sullivan, who has a history as a defense attorney, reports the Crimson, says he took Weinstein on as a client as even unpopular defendants deserve a quality defense. He also addressed concerns students shared about him handling any sexual assault cases that might come forth from students in Winthrop House by appointing another dean to handle those cases should the need arise. Still, Harvard says it will consider all options and take “appropriate action.”
But Sullivan has his supporters. The law professor is the first African-American faculty dean in Harvard’s history.
A petition has been created via Change.org to support Sullivan that has already generated more than 900 signatures. The petition reads in part:
For the past ten years while serving as Faculty Dean of Winthrop House, Professor Sullivan has represented alleged victims of sexual assault as well as people accused of sexual assault, murder, and terrorism. We call upon our University’s Administration to recognize that such legal advocacy in service of constitutional principles is not only fully consistent with Sullivan’s roles of law professor and dean of an undergraduate house, but one of the many possible models that resident deans can provide in teaching, mentoring, and advising students.
The University owes a robust response to allegations of sexual harassment and other sexual misconduct. We respect students’ right to protest Professor Sullivan’s choice of client. But we view any pressure by Harvard’s administration for him to resign as Faculty Dean of Winthrop House, because of his representation or speaking on behalf of clients, as inconsistent with the University’s commitment to the freedom to defend ideas, however unpopular. We cannot help but also note that this type of action taken against him has never been done previously in the history of Faculty deans the majority of which have been white men and women.
One signee summed up their support for Sullivan with this comment:
“The court of public opinion does not supersede the 6th Amendment.”
The 6th Amendment, as some may already know, is the one that calls for a speedy trial, ensures that the accused be able to face their accusers and guarantees that a defendant has the right to counsel.
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