Ed already covered this story yesterday in some detail but today law professor Alan Dershowitz has weighed in, saying the school should be ashamed of what it has done here. If you missed the story yesterday, here’s the abbreviated version: Ron Sullivan is a professor at Harvard Law School and he and his wife are also co-academic deans there. A group of students at the school argued they felt unsafe having Sullivan working as a defense attorney for Harvey Weinstein. The school agreed to investigate and Sullivan and his wife were subsequently fired from their jobs as dean (though not as professors). Dershowitz says Harvard has joined a law school hall of shame:
When I was a college student, lawyers who represented Communists would be fired from academic positions. In parts of the South, lawyers who represented civil rights activists were fired. In some areas of the country lawyers who represented men accused of sodomy or women seeking abortions would be fired. Now Harvard College joins this Hall of Shame by firing Professor Ron Sullivan and his wife, Stephanie Robinson from their positions as Co-Deans of Winthrop House because Sullivan decided to represent a man accused of rape. The defendant is the highly controversial Harvey Weinstein, who is presumed innocent and has not yet been tried.
What seems to upset Dershowitz the most is the poor reasoning the students offered for ousting Sullivan. Anyone familiar with the usual arguments for safe spaces and treating speech-as-violence will recognize these SJW arguments:
Many troubling arguments have been offered in defense of the decision not to renew Sullivan’s role as Dean of Winthrop house. The most common – and dangerous – is that students feel “unsafe” around a lawyer who is representing Weinstein.
Feeling “unsafe” is the new mantra for the new McCarthyism. It is a totally phony argument not deserving of any serious consideration. Any student who feels unsafe in the presence of two distinguished lawyers doesn’t belong at a university. They should leave and not force the firing of the professor. The “unsafe argument” could be made against a dean who is gay, Black, Muslim, Jewish, Republican or libertarian. No credence should be given to the argument, especially since the students apparently did not feel “unsafe” when Sullivan was representing a convicted double murderer…
Harvard College should be ashamed of itself for giving into irrational, bigoted, unprincipled and dangerous arguments instead of using Sullivan’s representation of Weinstein as an educational moment to teach student both the benefit of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution as well as tolerance for differing views.
Dershowitz is absolutely right about the nonsense behind all of this. One of the leaders of the push to oust Sullivan was a student named Danukshi Mudannayake who posted a petition on Change.org. Here’s a sample:
For those of you who are members of Winthrop House, do you really want to one day accept your Diploma from someone who for whatever reason, professional or personal, believes it is okay to defend such a prominent figure at the centre of the #MeToo movement? Regardless of Dean Sullivan’s intentions, his role as a community leader, and as someone who should first and foremost value the safety of the students he lives with in Winthrop House, should always come first. If he does not wish to put student need ahead of professional projects, he should step down as Winthrop House Dean immediately.
For victims of sexual assault and rape on this campus who already feel disempowered by the sheer lack of activity in reprimanding such behaviour, the developments of Dean Sullivan’s professional work are not only upsetting, but deeply trauma-inducing.
Being traumatized by anything and everything really has become the new McCarthyism. If you can’t make a rational argument for (or against) something, just claim you feel hurt and traumatized and that’s all it takes these days to win an argument at Harvard (or Yale, or many others).
It’s really not hard to see where this will go. The most traumatized person effectively has the most social power. And of course, you can’t argue with trauma. If someone claims to feel hurt, there’s no disagreeing with them. In fact, the more irrational they behave, screaming and yelling about their victimization, the more credible their claims of trauma become. It’s a perfect system for creating pure emotional mayhem untethered from logic or civility. And it’s now getting people fired at one of our top universities.