Asked About Winthrop Climate Review, Harvard College Dean Khurana Says House System Should Support Students

Khurana Speaks at Cultural Rhythms
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana spoke during the Cultural Rhythms performance on Saturday.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana emphasized the “unique” nature of the House system and the faculty dean role in response to questions on student concerns about living in Winthrop House amid controversy over Winthrop Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr.’s decision to represent film producer Harvey Weinstein.

Khurana did not directly comment in an interview Tuesday on whether he has heard concerns from freshmen who may be placed in Winthrop or students currently living in the house. Sullivan’s defense of Weinstein — who currently faces five sexual assault charges — has sparked student protests and open letters calling for his removal as faculty dean.

Asked about Sullivan, Khurana instead pointed to his goal of ensuring the house system functions as “the nexus” of services and support for students.

“Our focus is to ensure that that is working well,” he said. “What we want to do is make sure that the house in its orientation and the expectations that students have of the house really ties to a special responsibility to the well-being of the entire student body and [those] who are part of that community.”


Sullivan has responded to students’ concerns in a series of emails to Winthrop affiliates. In one, he said defense lawyers have a duty to represent the “unpopular defendant.” In another, he wrote about “support structures” he and fellow Winthrop Faculty Dean Stephanie R. Robinson planned to institute, including designating Resident Dean Linda D. M. Chavers as the “point person” for issues related to sexual misconduct.

In an interview last month, Khurana responded to questions about student concerns regarding Sullivan’s decision to represent Weinstein by emphasizing his support for "academic freedom." He added in the February interview that he was “actively in communication” with Sullivan so that Khurana could “adjust” to community members’ needs.

Khurana declined to comment Tuesday on whether he has met with Sullivan since.

On Feb. 26, Khurana announced a “climate review” of Winthrop House, led by former Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67. At the time, Khurana wrote that the College decided to launch the review after hearing concerns about Sullivan’s decision to defend Weinstein.

The review has two parts: House affiliates can meet with Dingman or Bok Center Director of Educational Research and Evaluation Jenny Bergeron in person. They can also fill out an online survey Dingman sent March 6, which Khurana said is still open.

Khurana also said people do not fully understand the distinction between a house and a dorm, or the role of the faculty dean.

“Our house system is unique. It's not understood well. It's not a dorm, but it is, in fact, the linchpin of our students services to be delivered,” he said. “Through our tutors, through the work of the Resident Dean, from the work of the Faculty Dean, critical student services are operating through our house system.”

—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_.