There is a reason you don’t let inmates run your asylum, allow your toddler to eat candy for dinner or tell the Labrador retriever sitting behind the wheel of your car, “OK, Duke, I guess you drive.” Those who are, mentally speaking, a few slices short of a loaf don’t get to make grown-up-people decisions. This brings me to Harvard undergraduates.
In the softest and most spoiled generation of humanity ever to exist (they feel threatened by Halloween costumes and the existence of Ben Shapiro; their forebears endured World War II and Vietnam and even riding bikes without helmets), the softest and most spoiled corner must be the Harvard student body, those little princelings and princesslings who have more expectations about how the world should accommodate their whims than Louis XIV. Last week, a handful of these toddler-brained undergrads got a distinguished Harvard dean fired for doing his job.
That dean, Ronald Sullivan, holds an outside job. He is something called a “lawyer.” Lawyers, as everyone but screaming Harvard kids knows, are a vital element of the justice system. In Professor Sullivan’s case, he is a defense lawyer, meaning he defends people who will sometimes turn out to be guilty. Sullivan’s past clients include the family of Michael Brown, on whose behalf he brought suit against Ferguson, Mo.; and Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end who committed suicide in 2017 while serving a life sentence for murder.
No one at Harvard batted an eye to learn that Sullivan has represented an actual murderer. But they lost their minds when Sullivan was hired by Harvey Weinstein. Harvard capitulated to a small band of protesters and announced that Sullivan and his wife, Stephanie Robinson, would no longer serve as faculty deans of Winthrop House, one of Harvard’s residential units. The unofficial leader of the student hysterics, Danu Mudannayake, doesn’t even live in Winthrop House and yet claimed it was “deeply trauma-inducing” to know that Sullivan represented Weinstein, which somehow proved Sullivan “does not value the safety of students he lives with in Winthrop House.”
If these ding-dongs and the spineless, craven ding-dong enablers running Harvard had simply found some smelling salts and taken a few deep breaths, they would soon have learned that Sullivan was off the Weinstein case anyway: The law professor was expecting to work on the matter during his summer break, but a judge pushed the trial back to the fall, when Sullivan’s Harvard teaching duties would have precluded his representing Weinstein.
After Weinstein hired Sullivan in January, a handful of students began to make noise in op-eds. This led to the usual spotlight being trained on the target, and what sealed Sullivan’s fate was one of those gossipy, grab-bag takedowns that the media (in this case The Harvard Crimson) runs to create the impression someone is a lousy person. (The world-exclusive hit piece revealed that Sullivan does unspeakable things like ask underlings to fetch coffee for him.)
The following day, Dean Rakesh Khurana announced that a “climate review” of conditions in Winthrop House was worrisome — meaning undergraduates were throwing tantrums as they so often do — and declared it “untenable” for Sullivan to continue as dean of it.
Here’s what’s “untenable”: Harvard and other institutions turning into baby-ocracies in which the silliest imaginable reasoning is validated over the mature consideration of sanctified norms deeply woven into the fabric of the country, such as the principle that all accused criminals have a right to a defense, meaning defense lawyers are critical to ensuring fairness.
Longtime Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz calls this combination of hysteria and censure the new McCarthyism. Harvard did not invent the sex blacklist that is sweeping across the culture, punishing everyone from those who were guilty of not being mind readers on a date (such as Aziz Ansari) to those who were guilty of nothing except consensual sexual affairs (such as the editor Lorin Stein, who was pushed out of The Paris Review) to genuinely awful men.
Yet Harvard is making things significantly worse by indulging the absurd idea that someone who represents an accused criminal is not only himself a bad person, but must also be ritually scourged in some way.
If Harvard wants to continue thinking of itself as one of America’s leading institutions, it should reinstate and apologize to Sullivan. It should also serve notice to students that if the presence of lawyers doing their jobs is “deeply trauma-inducing” to them, they will be offered not heads served up on platters but directions to the nearest psychotherapist. Preferably one who specializes in child psychology.
Kyle Smith is critic-at-large at National Review.
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