Harvard Makes a Huge Mistake In Firing Professor for Doing His Job

Harvard said that they would not renew Professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. and his wife, Stephanie Robinson, positions as faculty deans of Winthrop House, a dorm for undergraduate student after student protest

Why were students upset? Because Sullivan is not only a law professor, he’s a defense attorney and he joined the defense team for Harvey Weinstein, who is accused of rape and sexual assault and is the poster boy for the #metoo movement. Students said Sullivan’s defense of Weinstein made him unqualified for a supportive dean role. Students held protests and anti-Sullivan graffiti appeared. 

In a letter to the students at Winthrop House, Dean Khurana wrote:

“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.”

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15 thoughts on “Harvard Makes a Huge Mistake In Firing Professor for Doing His Job

  1. Dear Evil — Thank you for posting this (and for all your posts over the years … really).

    These are strange and troubling times, there are always more than two sides to every story, and (to quote one of my life mottos) nothing is simple and it always takes longer.

    Regardless of which side one is on with this and countless other situations / challenges / controversies, it’s always helpful to be reminded of fundamental principles as highlighted in this article.

  2. Well, we don’t know whether Sullivan was actually “doing his job” or not. Perhaps, the objection to his representing Weinstein was not solely based on the Defendant’s notoriety but on the fact that adding an additional role — on top of Sullivan’s main job as a Law Professor, plus his auxiliary job as Faculty Dean of Winthrop House — really did result in a “noticeable lack of faculty dean presence during critical moments.”

    1. But that’s Suzanne’s point…she compared it to have a problem female employee and not firing her until she happens to be pregnant. It LOOKS like you fired her for getting prengant, even though there were problems all along. Same thing here….apparently there were problems going back to 2016, but they first cut the guy loose now, when he’s defending Weinsteing. Which makes it LOOK like it was because he chose to defend one specific controversial person. Perception matters.

      1. I understand that. However, the headline flat-out takes a different position.

  3. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to trial and right to an attorney. While Weinstein may be guilty, he still has rights under our laws. Someone also should remind the students that John Adams, eventual 2nd President of the United States, defended the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre. That was unpopular in 1770.

    1. I was about to add this same comment. John Adams is a hero of mine! He always did the right thing, regardless of public opinion. (Or tried to. He was human, and made some mistakes along the way.)

  4. “Students are the products and the customers are the businesses that hire the students when they graduate.”

    Is completely wrong. The customers are the ones tho pay you. The businesses do not pay the universities, they do not have a contract, or even a lightly implied promise to hire the graduates. While it is important for universities to produce graduates that have marketable skills, any university that thinks that their primary goal is to make businesses happy is failing their students. The mission of a university is to produce graduates who are educated, well-rounded, questioning, and productive members of society who will carry knowledge and wisdom to the next generation.

    1. “The customers are the ones tho pay you. The businesses do not pay the universities, they do not have a contract, or even a lightly implied promise to hire the graduates.”

      By this logic, the customer isn’t the students either. Most students do not pay their own way through college. They get loans, scholarships, or their parents/relatives pay for it. This means that the primary customer for the university is the federal government (who controls the student loan industry and who gives out many scholarships). (States contribute as well, but even most state schools get only a token amount of income from their states–universities get less per student than minimum-security prisons get per inmate in some cases.)

      So the question becomes, what does the federal government think the ideal product of a university is?

      1. The mission of a university is to provide students with what the students expect when they shell out tens (or hundreds) or thousands of dollars. And what most of them expect is not to be well rounded members of society, it’s to be employable at a job that pays well enough to pay off their student loans before they die of old age. (And provide a lot of opportunities to party, of course.) Any other goal on the part of the university is manipulative propaganda.

      2. I’m not sure you understand how loans work, or how the students will have to pay them back.

        Either way, I’m with Mollyg. The students are clearly the customers in this situation. They’re paying absurd amounts of money for an education, And it doesn’t help Harvard to have negative press, because students with the ability to get into Harvard likely have the ability to get into many other elite schools.

        And I think it’s important to remember that his role as the dean for a dorm, is different from his role as a law professor. So sure, it might make sense for a law professor to be a defense attorney for a big name, even if it’s controversial. The person who is in charge of a dorm of undergrads taking a job defending someone accused of sexual harassment, etc, that feels a bit different.

        And he wasn’t let go as a law professor, just not renewed as a dean of a dorm. Not to mention, how does he have any time to actually do the extra work of being the dean of the dorm, on top of his jobs as a law professor and working lawyer?

        1. “I’m not sure you understand how loans work, or how the students will have to pay them back.”

          Right. I hold a different view from you, ergo it must obviously be ignorance on my part. I hope you don’t handle all disagreements this way.

      3. If you take out a loan to pay for something, or if your relatives give you the money to pay for something, you’re still paying for it.

  5. These student protestors need to work on their education a bit more. They go to….Harvard…home to one of the most prominent law schools in this country. Many of them will take law jobs defending people that most of society considers the scum of the earth. They obviously aren’t putting this in the context of their own life – – would they want to be denied opportunities for simply choosing to defend the worst of society? You, yourself can be a good person, even if you defend people who are not.

  6. It doesn’t look like they fired him, though. If I’m reading correctly, it’s that he is no longer the dean of that house. That’s an extra duty with extra compensation. So it doesn’t seem that he was fired, merely that he doesn’t get this extra compensation for extra duties. That happens often in higher ed. I’m seeing a tempest in a teapot here.

  7. A possibly important factor left out of this story — but prominently featured in other media reports of this situation — is that Professor Sullivan and his wife were Harvard’s first African-American Faculty Deans. Once can only wonder if race may have played a part in the student protests.

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