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Sullivan Criticizes Harvard, Higher Education in Op-Ed

Winthrop House is one of Harvard's twelve residential houses.
Winthrop House is one of Harvard's twelve residential houses. By Mariah Ellen D. Dimalaluan
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Aidan F. Ryan, Crimson Staff Writers

Ousted Winthrop Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr. criticized Harvard’s decision to dismiss him and co-Faculty Dean Stephanie R. Robinson in an op-ed published in the New York Times Monday.

“I am willing to believe that some students felt unsafe. But feelings alone should not drive university policy,” Sullivan wrote. “Administrators must help students distinguish between feelings that have a rational basis and those that do not. In my case, Harvard missed an opportunity to help students do that.”

Sullivan’s op-ed comes more than a month after Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced the College would not renew Sullivan and Robinson as faculty deans after activists argued Sullvan’s decision to represent Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in his Manhattan sex abuse trial conflicted with his role as a faculty dean. Sullivan is no longer representing Weinstein.

“Given that universities are supposed to be places of considered and civil discourse, where people are forced to wrestle with difficult, controversial and unfamiliar ideas, this is disappointing,” Sullivan wrote in his op-ed.

College spokesperson Rachael Dane referred to previous comments when asked Monday night about Sullivan’s op-ed. Earlier this month, Dane said the College’s decision was “not directly related to the Weinstein representation.”

Khurana’s May 11 announcement that he would not renew Sullivan and Robinson cited an "untenable" climate in Winthrop. His announcement came a day after The Crimson reported allegations brought by more than a dozen current and former Winthrop staff members that Sullivan and Robinson had fostered a hostile environment during their 10-year tenure, threatening to fire staff they deemed disloyal. At one point, 13 tutors threatened to quit though they ultimately stayed.

In the letter, Sullivan reiterated past arguments he has made defending his tenure as a faculty dean and his ability to support students who have experienced sexual assault. He wrote that he has defended both people leveling accusations of sexual assault and people fending off those charges.

“The administration knew full well that for 10 years I had been able to fulfill my duties as a faculty dean — including advising and representing student survivors of sexual assault in the context of Title IX — while representing clients in criminal court,” he wrote. “Until this spring, there was never even a whisper of a complaint that I was unable to provide the care and concern that all students concerned with sexual violence deserve.”

Less than two weeks ago, Sullivan and Robinson said they planned to challenge Harvard in a video posted online. The pair also said they plan to call for changes to American universities more broadly.

In the video Sullivan said he wants to “restore academic freedom, reasoned discourse, and honor at Harvard College.”

“Unchecked emotion has replaced thoughtful reasoning on campus. Feelings are no longer subjected to evidence, analysis or empirical defense,” he wrote Monday. “Angry demands, rather than rigorous arguments, now appear to guide university policy.”

Sullivan and Robinson will leave Winthrop on June 30. The College has yet to announce interim leadership for the House.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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