May 15, 2019

MARK PULLIAM: Harvard’s Disgrace.

Utopian social movements often degenerate into unruly—and sometimes vicious—mobs. During the French Revolution, the slogan “liberty, equality, fraternity” quickly led to the guillotine as the Jacobins unleashed the Reign of Terror. We are witnessing a softer version of this at Harvard, America’s most elite university, where Ronald Sullivan, an African-American law professor, faces professional retribution for the sin of representing a (presumed innocent) client (Harvey Weinstein) accused of sexual assault. Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz denounced the incident as “The new McCarthyism comes to Harvard.”

Capitulating to the noisy complaints of a small number of undergraduates, and a sit-in protest at the dining hall, the Harvard administration recently announced that, effective June 30, Sullivan and his wife, Stephanie Robinson (who likewise teaches at Harvard Law School), would be removed as “faculty deans” at the school’s Winthrop House—a student residence where Sullivan and Robinson also lived. (Sullivan remains as a law professor.) When appointed as residential deans in 2009, Sullivan and Robinson were the first African-Americans to hold that position at Harvard, according to The Harvard Crimson. The decision to remove Sullivan and Robinson was made by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, who had reportedly joined the students’ sit-in protest, dubbed “Reclaim Winthrop.”

Students absurdly charged that Sullivan’s representation of a criminal defendant charged with sexual assault—by itself—made them feel upset, and contributed to an unsafe and hostile educational environment. Never mind that procedural due process (including the right of criminal defendants to zealous representation) is a critical tenet of the Anglo-American legal system, and that criminal law professors have long practiced criminal defense on the side, without controversy. Never mind that Sullivan previously represented other high-profile clients without incident, including accused terrorists and former New England Patriots tight-end Aaron Hernandez in his 2017 double murder trial. That was then.

The #MeToo movement sweeps away such precedents as inconvenient impediments to achieving a higher state of virtue, just as the Robespierre-led Committee of Public Safety eliminated many “enemies of the people.” It is tempting to ignore the horrors of the French Revolution, or to dismiss them as an aberration of history, but then—as now—idealistic reformers believed with moral certainty in the righteousness of their cause.

I know that some people on the right want to simply laugh while respected lefty institutions devour themselves, but the poison will not stay contained.

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