Monday, June 17, 2019

Under Assault at Harvard: the Freedom to Bill Scumbags

By Larry Lowell
Boston-Area College Correspondent

The miserable undergraduates have gotten the hell out of Cambridge so it's time for the Harvard faculty to concentrate on what it does best: feeling sorry for itself.

Today's neediest case: well-known champion of academic freedom and former mouthpiece for a loathsome sex offender Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School.  His sad story of cruel oppression – probably the worst one involving sex crimes since Brett Kavanaugh – has been playing out for most of the last year.

If you have your hankies and violins at the ready, we'll start from the beginning.  To keep the undergraduates from throwing themselves in to the Charles River like that guy from that Faulkner book we never read, Harvard College houses upperclass, um, persons in residential Houses.  You have to live and eat there, with rare exception, and to its credit, the House system gives students a social and support network that doesn't depend on wealth, status, or prep school attended (unlike, for example, Princeton).

The Houses are superintended by what used to be called a House Master but is now a Resident Dean.  The deal is simple: in exchange for rent-free life in accommodations that are just one step down from a mansion, the Dean, who should have some relationship to Harvard University, although, like Sullivan, not one necessarily involving undergrads, is supposed to foster a sense of community and make sure that the little grinders don't collapse over their problem sets.

Also there's plenty of free booze.

Resident Deans, to reduce their workload to just about nil, appoint and rely on a large network of graduate student tutors, who, in exchange for less grand accommodation and free food, actually have to talk to and eat with the kiddos.

Prof. Sullivan wishes to point out that this man
looks nothing like Harvey Weinstein
Sounds like the easiest gig in the world, right?  And it's nearly impossible to f**k up, as generations of alkie housemasters can attest.  So what happened to Professor Sullivan, the now former Master of Winthrop House?

We mentioned that he was a tenured Professor at Harvard Law School.  In addition to trousering about $300 large a year for recycling the same lectures year after year, these worthies are entitled to earn additional pelf by “consulting,” or lending their names and reputations to clients of greater or lesser odiferousness at rates of up to $1,000 an hour.  You may ask why if teaching at Harvard Law School is a full-time job, these guys have the time and effort to aid poor underprivileged clients like Claus von Bulow?

Don't sweat – a tenured Harvard Law Professor is required to do little if any original work to hold down his or her sinecure, so they have plenty of time to consult.

And if you wonder why highly-compensated (at least in comparison to their wretched GSAS colleagues) law professors need to rake in even more bucks from creeps, you haven't priced too many 12-room Queen Annes within walking distance of Langdell lately.

Professor Sullivan, whose specialty is criminal law, had the chance to fill his pockets with money from any number of clients.  The client he chose was Harvey Weinstein.

According to the Boston Globe, it did not go well:
Students began protesting in January when the news broke that Sullivan would be part of Weinstein’s defense team. They argued that Sullivan’s role as a live-in father figure to some 400 students in student housing conflicted with his role defending Weinstein, whose case was a catalyst for the #MeToo movement, and they questioned how he would field future complaints of sexual assault.
Among the exiguous duties of a Resident Dean it turns out is acting as a front-line adjudicator of sexual harassment and assault claims, which can and do exist at Harvard even when they don't involve Emeritus Professors of Government.

Imagine that you are say a sophomore woman in Winthrop House who fought off an assault from some asshole at or after a party.  Imagine too that your Housemaster, er, Resident Dean,  had been quoted at length in court and in the media trivializing the claims of Weinstein's hundreds of credible victims or repeating the loathsome plant-nourisher's ridiculous defense that the skanks were begging for it, which is what his mouthpiece would in fact have to do.

Might you reasonably wonder how sympathetic your Housemaster would be to your complaint?  Especially if your attacker offers up the same crap defenses as Weinstein?  And if you were Harvard and under some obligation to maintain an environment in which victims of sexual violence felt that their College would hear their claims sympathetically, might you wonder if there was a conflict between Sullivan's obligations as Housemaster and his duties to his scumbag client?

You might.

And, after some investigation, Harvard reached that conclusion.  It told Sullivan while he could continue to Profess at The Law School whilst representing guilty sleazebags under the Dershowitz Doctrine, he could not hold a job that required him to assist victims of sexual assault or harassment.

As would be the case with Harvard Professors told they can't have everything they want just because they teach at Harvard, Prof. Sullivan had a well-intellectualized hissy fit:
In his first remarks since he lost the deanship last month, Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. said he envisions creating an institution that could work within and beyond Harvard to reform academia and restore reasoned discourse on campuses.

Was Harvard's decision that serving as a Housemaster was fundamentally inconsistent with taking bucks to slime victims of a serial sex offender an assault on reasoned discourse? Is stating for $1,000 an hour that Ashley Judd was “begging for it” really an exercise of academic freedom?

Let's ask an objective source, Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy, who wrote an impassioned defense of Sullivan in The New York Times, although to his credit it began: “Mr. Sullivan is my friend and colleague.”

Oh.  Well, let's hear him out anyway.  Prof. Kennedy ended his column thusly:
Friends of academia should insist that Harvard answer the question: Why is serving as defense counsel for Harvey Weinstein inconsistent with serving as a faculty dean?
Well, we just told you why.  Indeed Prof. Kennedy knows full well why, as he states in his column:
Student opposition to Mr. Sullivan has hinged on the idea of safety — that they would not feel safe confiding in Mr. Sullivan about matters having to do with sexual harassment or assault given his willingness to serve as a lawyer for Mr. Weinstein. Let’s assume the good faith of such declarations (though some are likely mere parroting). Even still, they should not be accepted simply because they represent sincere beliefs or feelings.
How Prof. Kennedy knows the real views of undergraduates he does not teach or otherwise interact with is a mystery, but just remember that if you're a Professor at Harvard Law School, you, in A.J. Liebling's words, need not cite any authority, being it.

There's actually much more to the story involving claims by tutors that Sullivan fucked up the easiest job in the world by alienating and mistreating them, as well as efforts by a buddy of Sullivan's to subpoena The Harvard Crimson in violation of its and our First Amendment rights.

We'll leave those hanging and focus just on Sullivan's claim, made in The New Yorker, that somehow the right of a Harvard Professor to profit from representing a rich asshole is part of their academic freedom:  “But from the vantage point of a professor and administrator, you also have to insure that the university is a space where multiple ideas can exist and that other students aren’t silenced.”

Wait, you say, what does making big bucks moonlighting for sex offenders have to do with academic freedom?  If you don't know the answer, brother, then you didn't go to Harvard.

Wait a minute.  We did.  And using our well-honed research skills (one internet page), we found Harvard's interpretation of what academic freedom means:
All members of the University have the right to press for action on matters of concern by any appropriate means. The University must affirm, assure and protect the rights of its members to organize and join political associations, convene and conduct public meetings, publicly demonstrate and picket in orderly fashion, advocate and publicize opinion by print, sign, and voice.
Do you see in that list the right to bill $1,000 an hour to malign the victims of your client's depredations while at the same time holding yourself out to undergraduates as their advocate and their protector from similar misdeeds?

We don't either.

We do understand that Prof. Sullivan, who continues to hold and get paid for his tenured position at Harvard Law School, feels that he has been unjustly tarred by unfair accusations of powerful persons with evil intentions.

Persons in that position say it feels awful.  Like Harvey Weinstein's victims. 

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