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Dialogue, Not Diatribe

By Karen G. Heredia
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

At a recent event held by the Harvard Undergraduate Constitutional Law Society, Law School professor Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr. made critical comments about Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay, accusing them of lying to students about their reasons for dismissing him from his role as faculty dean of Winthrop House in May.

In spite of these controversial remarks, we believe HUCLS was absolutely within their rights in inviting Sullivan to speak to their group. Sullivan is a well-respected scholar within his field: He is the faculty director of the Harvard Criminal Justice Institute, has served on former President Barack Obama’s Criminal Justice Advisory Committee for Obama's first presidential election, and has reportedly won the release of more wrongfully incarcerated persons than anyone else in U.S. history. For an undergraduate student group interested in constitutional law looking to host an event fostering conversations on that subject, it is only natural to speak to experts who will do so. Sullivan is undeniably such an expert, and it is unfortunate the group faced criticism for their decision to host him.

Sullivan’s legal accomplishments, however, are separate from his consistent fumbling of the Winthrop debacles. At first glance, it’s easy to find fault with Sullivan’s comments about other administrators at the event, as he took the opportunity to level accusations rather than engage meaningfully with the events last semester. It is disappointing to see how Sullivan has framed the various events surrounding his leadership of Winthrop last semester, which misunderstands the depth and complexity of the experiences of those who were involved.

Yes, there is reason and merit to the fact that the University may not have been entirely transparent in the way in which they discussed their decision to dismiss Sullivan from his faculty dean duties. This is not to say Harvard was wrong in its decision, but administrators could have been more forthright in the ways they spoke of his dismissal and the incredible influence that both the alleged treatment of Winthrop tutors and his representation of Harvey Weinstein melded to create an “untenable” environment in the House. Nevertheless, it was inappropriate for Sullivan to air his grievances to the roughly 10 people in attendance at the event.

As a professor at the Law School, one’s presentation holds considerable weight and authority — not only on campus but to the world more broadly that looks to Harvard and its community as leaders in higher education. We hope Sullivan considers his actions alongside this role deeply — be they through this student group event, through his failure to file tax returns, his handling of the environment within Winthrop, or otherwise — and understand that these actions are influential, for better or worse.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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