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Former Winthrop Dean Sullivan Criticizes Admins During Constitutional Law Society Event

The Center for Government and International Studies, where Professor Ronald Sullivan spoke at an event last week.
The Center for Government and International Studies, where Professor Ronald Sullivan spoke at an event last week. By Delano R. Franklin
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Delano R. Franklin, Crimson Staff Writers

Former Winthrop House Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr. accused Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay of repeatedly lying about their reasons for dismissing him last semester at an event held Friday.

Sullivan and former co-faculty dean Stephanie R. Robinson left Winthrop this summer after Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced he would not renew their contract. The decision came after months of student protests, open letters, and petitions calling on the College to remove him because he joined Harvey Weinstein’s legal team as the film producer faced rape charges.

“The actions were cowardly and craven and Dean Gay and Dean Khurana just consistently and repeatedly lied to the student body and they know better,” he said on Friday at an event held by the Harvard Undergraduate Constitutional Law Society.

Roughly ten people attended the talk. Sullivan, who remains a professor at Harvard Law School, spent much of the event speaking about his career as a criminal defense lawyer. His comments about Gay and Khurana came toward the end of the event in response to questions about his leadership of Winthrop House.

The Crimson reported in May that a dozen current and former Winthrop staff alleged he and Robinson fostered a hostile work environment for more than a decade, prompting more than half of the tutor staff to threaten to quit at one point. Khurana announced he would not renew Sullivan and Robinson a day after The Crimson published its report.

Sullivan made his comments about Gay and Khurana in response to a question about the College’s handling of the situation in Winthrop. He said he believes that Gay and Khurana lied to the student body “about everything.”

“Their problem was that I represented an unpopular person,” he said. “They said it to my face and other senior members said it to my face and then they turned around and lied to the student body.”

College administrators have repeatedly stated that the decision to let Sullivan and Robinson go was unrelated to Sullivan’s representation of Weinstein. Khurana wrote in his May email that the decision to not renew the pair was because the climate in Winthrop became “untenable” under their leadership.

Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane pointed to previous College statements in response to Sullivan’s criticism of Gay and Khurana at the event.

“The decision not to renew Ronald Sullivan and Stephanie Robinson was not directly related to the Weinstein representation, but rather due to their failure to fulfill their responsibilities as Faculty Deans of Winthrop House,” Dane wrote in an emailed statement.

Sullivan and Robinson have previously criticized Harvard’s decision to not renew them, noting that they plan to use the experience to advocate for academic freedom at universities nationwide. The controversy has also drawn federal lawmakers’ attention — United States Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to University President Lawrence S. Bacow in early October seeking additional information about the decision.

HUCLS President Thaddeus J. Kennedy ’21 separately stated during the event that his organization had faced pushback for their decision to invite Sullivan. He said the group moved the event, which was originally planned to be in Leverett House, to an auditorium in the Center for Government and International Studies at the request of Leverett Faculty Deans Brian D. Farrell and Irina P. Ferreras.

“We were approached by the Leverett faculty deans and they told us that we could not even have this event in Leverett House,” Kennedy said.

Farrell and Ferreras did not respond to a request for comment on whether they declined to host the event.

At the end of the event, Sullivan said he planned to return for a larger event with HUCLS in early December.

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

—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @delanofranklin_.

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