On Saturday, Harvard notified students that a law professor who decided to represent Harvey Weinstein in court, will not return as faculty dean at one of the college’s residential houses. According to the New York Times, Professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., who represents Weinstein, and his wife Stephanie Robinson, a Harvard lecturer, will no longer be faculty deans after their term ends in June.
Sullivan and his wife are the first African-American faculty deans at Harvard.
The Times reported that when Sullivan joined Weinstein’s defense team in January, students “expressed dismay, saying that his decision to represent a person accused of abusing women disqualified Mr. Sullivan from serving in a role of support and mentorship to students.”
Protests were held and graffiti critical of Sullivan was sprayed on a university building. Reportedly, tensions were reported as becoming more heated recently. A student sit-in and a lawsuit that was filed following a confrontation between a protest leader and two Winthrop House staff members who supported Sullivan was the final straw.
Harvard Dean Rakesh Khurana emailed staff and students on Saturday, saying Sullivan and Robinson will no longer be faculty deans when their term ends. The email reads, in part: “Over the last few weeks, students and staff have continued to communicate concerns about the climate in Winthrop House to the college. The concerns expressed have been serious and numerous. The actions that have been taken to improve the climate have been ineffective, and the noticeable lack of faculty dean presence during critical moments has further deteriorated the climate in the house. I have concluded that the situation in the house is untenable.”
The move does not affect the pair’s other positions at the school. Sullivan is the Jesse Climenko Clinical Professor of Law and the director of the Criminal Justice Institute.
Many of Sullivan’s colleagues supported him, with 52 professors at the law school signing a letter stating that his commitment to representing unpopular clients was consistent with his roles as a law professor and a faculty dean. They asked that Harvard not pressure him to resign.
At the same time, there were racial undertones to the drama, as some believed Sullivan was being treated unjustly. The Times reported:
In a statement in late March, the Harvard Black Law Students Association criticized the decision by the university to conduct a climate review and expressed concern about “the racist undertones evidenced by the disproportionate response to this issue by the university.”
Mr. Sullivan himself suggested that race was playing a role in the handling of the controversy.
“It is not lost on me that I’m the first African-American to hold this position,” he told The Times earlier this year. “Never in the history of the faculty dean position has the dean been subjected to a ‘climate review’ in the middle of some controversy.”
Sullivan has represented several controversial clients, to include Aaron Hernandez, former New England Patriots player who was tried for double murder, and the family of Usaamah Rahim, who was shot by Boston police and was accused of being a terrorist. He also represented the family of Michael Brown, a man killed by the police in Missouri, for whom he brought a wrongful-death suit against the City of Ferguson … the family eventually received a reported $1.5 million settlement.
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