McCarthyism Comes to Harvard
In 2016, Harvard Law School professor Ronald Sullivan joined the defense team representing Aaron Hernandez, the New England Patriots football player who had already been convicted of murder in another case. The defense this time was successful. Hernandez was acquitted of a double murder in the new case. He later killed himself in prison.
There were no student protests at Harvard because a member of the law school faculty represented a murderer. Nor should there have been. Harvard students, bright kids that they are, understand that everyone accused of a crime, no matter how heinous, is entitled to a defense, and a vigorous one at that.
But when Professor Sullivan joined the team defending Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood mogul who is charged with rape and other sexual offenses, that was too much for some sensitive Harvard students. Such a callous decision – to represent Mr. Weinstein – made them feel “unsafe.”
A murderer, of course, is entitled to a lawyer. But in the #MeToo age, an accused sexual predator isn’t. Or more precisely, he’s not entitled to be represented by Ronald Sullivan, who in addition to teaching law, is also a dean at Harvard, a role in which he counsels some 400 students at a university dormitory.
Students at the dorm, and others at Harvard, demanded that Mr. Sullivan be removed, that he be dismissed from the job he had held for a decade.
Randall Kennedy, a law professor at Harvard and a friend of Mr. Sullivan’s says in a New York Times op-ed that, “Enraged by Mr. Sullivan’s work on behalf of Mr. Weinstein, a cadre of students at Winthrop, and in other parts of the university, demanded the lawyer’s ouster, asserting that his choice of client undermined their confidence in his ability to be properly attuned to their thoughts and feelings. Some said that Mr. Sullivan’s choice was nothing less than ‘trauma-inducing.’”
Some students also vandalized university buildings. They spray-painted graffiti messages that read, “Our rage is self-defense” and “Whose side are you on?”
That he was on the side of civil liberties and constitutional rights escaped those smart students at Harvard. So what did the grownups who ostensibly run the university do? Did the dean in charge of the situation, Rakesh Khurana, tell the students what they should have learned in high school social studies class, if not before: that the Constitution guarantees all criminal defendants a fair trial and that requires a competent lawyer representing the defendant’s interests?
No, instead he did what officials at other elite universities do when confronted by the angry mob. He gave in to their demands and announced that Ronald Sullivan would no longer be dean of the college, though Mr. Sullivan is still on the law school faculty.
“I have been a professor at Harvard University for 14 years,” Randall Kennedy, Mr. Sullivan’s friend and colleague in the law school wrote in his op-ed. “In that time, the school has never embarrassed itself as it did last weekend” when it dumped Dean Sullivan on grounds that the climate at the dorm was so bad that he had to go.
Alan Dershowitz, who taught law at Harvard until he retired, tweeted that,“The new McCarthyism comes to Harvard. The firing of Dean Sullivan reminds me of the bad old days when lawyers were fired for representing communists, gay people, civil rights demonstrators and women seeking abortions.”
Those traumatized students may have high SAT scores but score in the bottom percentiles when it comes to introspection. They couldn’t even figure out that while they embrace liberal values, they were acting like thugs, trashing the values that they claim are so important to them. They were liberals, who like many others before them, forgot how to be liberal.
Perhaps some day, a Harvard law professor will be asked to represent an accused terrorist charged with killing innocent Americans. Harvard students will not protest that decision. And, of course, they shouldn’t. But representing an accused sexual predator, apparently, is something else, a crime these days of a higher order.
Harvard officials could have shown backbone and told the offended students to grow up and stop acting like babies. Instead they chose the coward’s way out. But giving in to campus authoritarians only encourages them. This is not the last time the mob will get its way.
I’ll have more on the sanctimonious mobs that run roughshod on elite college campuses in this space next week.