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Winthrop Dean Sullivan Defends Fryer, Criticizes Harvard Investigation

Winthrop House Commencement
Winthrop Faculty Dean, Law School Professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., speaks at a diploma ceremony in 2010.

Winthrop House Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr. sharply criticized Harvard’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against Economics Professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr. in a Jan. 29 RealClearInvestigations article that identifies him multiple times as Fryer’s lawyer.

Asked twice whether — as the article asserts — he represents Fryer, Sullivan avoided directly answering the question.

Instead Sullivan wrote that Boston attorney George J. Leontire is representing Fryer. Pressed further, Leontire then responded in place of Sullivan that he and Fryer declined to comment.

Sullivan is currently facing scrutiny over his choice to represent former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in his Manhattan sexual abuse case. In a letter to Winthrop affiliates about his defense of Weinstein, Sullivan emphasized the importance of representing the “unpopular defendant.”

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The Crimson first reported the existence of at least one Title IX investigation into Fryer in May 2018, and another in December. He also faces a state-level investigation led by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, an additional Title IX complaint, and a Harvard investigation into his finances and personal spending.

The Title IX complainants allege Fryer engaged in unwelcome sexual conduct stretching back years and that he created a hostile environment for women at the Education Innovation Labs, the research group he founded. Fryer has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Harvard's Office for Dispute Resolution — which conducts formal Title IX investigations — issued a report this fall on two of the three Title IX inquiries into Fryer. ODR is still investigating the third sexual harassment complaint against Fryer. The Harvard inquiry into his finances is also ongoing.

In the RealClearInvestigations article, Sullivan called the ODR investigations into Fryer “deeply flawed and deeply unfair.” He alleged investigators “weighted the credibility of white witnesses far above minority witnesses” and ignored the testimony of several EdLabs employees who spoke in support of Fryer.

“It shows what the current [#MeToo] movement, some blood in the water, and good coaching [of witnesses] can produce,” he said.

Sullivan’s comments directly reference witness interviews and details of ODR’s reports, which are typically shared only with complainants, respondents, and the parties’ advisors.

Sullivan criticized ODR’s handling of the complaints in the article. He alleged Harvard investigators acted without a “semblance of due process or the presumption of innocence” and their report used racial stereotypes.

“Roland was constantly portrayed as an over-sexualized black man who no one could tell no,” Sullivan said. “Yet, there was not one piece of evidence of someone telling him no and him doing something mean to them. Even [a hostile witness whom he had fired] said in her interview that Roland’s so-called ‘yelling’ is not about raising his voice but it’s the intensity of his look and how his voice sounds.”

Asked about his quotes in the RealClearInvestigations article, Sullivan wrote in an email that he did not have any additional comments.

“I do not have any additional comments relating to the ODR investigation of Prof. Fryer,” he wrote.

Per Harvard policy, all parties involved with an ODR investigation must avoid sharing information they learn during the course of the inquiry.

“Once a complaint is filed, the Complainant or Reporter, the Respondent, and any witnesses will be notified that disclosing information about the case has the potential for compromising the integrity of the investigation and might, in certain circumstances, be construed as retaliatory,” the policy reads.

Retaliation is considered a separate violation of Harvard’s policies against sexual and gender-based harassment.

“The parties remain free to share their own experiences, other than information that they have learned solely through the investigatory process,” the policy reads.

Stuart Taylor, Jr., who wrote the RealClearInvestigations article, did not respond to a request for comment. In the past, Taylor has written books and articles criticizing Obama-era Title IX guidelines and has frequently referenced the “problem of systematic discrimination by universities against the accused.”

Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on Sullivan’s criticisms or the status of the investigations. Fryer did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at shera.avi-yonah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

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