There are protests taking place at Harvard this week, but this time it doesn’t have to do with Colin Kaepernick or mispronouned transgender students. Some of the young men and women there have discovered that Harvey Weinstein has been assembling a legal dream team for his defense against sexual assault charges and one of the members is none other than Winthrop House faculty dean and Harvard Law professor Ronald Sullivan jr. The students are clearly not pleased with this development and would like to see Mr. Sullivan removed from his duties immediately. (Boston Globe)
To witness all the tumult, you might think Harvey Weinstein had just moved onto Harvard’s campus.
That is not the case.
But the news that the disgraced Hollywood producer has chosen for his legal “dream team” a faculty dean of one of Harvard’s residential houses has unleashed a wave of concern on campus.
Holding signs that said “Harvard Doesn’t Care” and “Down with the Dean,” students protested outside the president’s office in Harvard Yard on Monday, demanding that the administration immediately remove Winthrop House faculty dean Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. from his position.
The interviews with some of the student protesters are quite telling. Most of them obviously know what’s right and wrong here, but seem to make their acceptance of such rules of engagement situational. They find Weinstein’s alleged crimes to be particularly heinous and relevant to ongoing social debates, so having their own professor and faculty dean defending him seems intolerable.
I should confess up front that I previously have held such an attitude myself before taking the time to fully understand why the system works the way it does. Seeing attorneys who have defended serial child molesters, rapists or cop killers really got under my skin and made me quick to judge such lawyers in a negative fashion. In that regard, I can somewhat sympathize with these protesters.
But the underlying reality is that Weinstein is technically innocent until proven guilty. Everyone accused of a crime is entitled to the best legal defense they can muster, both the innocent and the guilty. As bad as it may be that some guilty people with extremely skillful lawyers wind up going free, the idea of an innocent poor person being convicted is too high of a price to pay. The fact is that even with our constitutionally mandated system of everyone having access to legal representation, there’s no telling how many innocent people have been found guilty after being represented by an overworked public defender handling too heavy of a caseload.
So everyone who is accused of a crime should be able to have legal counsel. And the lawyers who fill those roles shouldn’t be taken to task for providing that defense, no matter how reprehensible the accused may appear to be. Most of the protesters interviewed in that article said they were already aware of these facts, but a lot of them are choosing to ignore what they already know because it’s Weinstein. And that’s just not right.