In a break with tradition, roughly 30 Winthrop House seniors opted to receive their diplomas Thursday from a member of the House’s senior common room, rather than its faculty deans Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr. and Stephanie R. Robinson.
Law School Professor Intisar A. Rabb delivered those students' diplomas instead of Sullivan and Robinson, who have been the target of criticism for months following Sullivan’s announcement in January that he would represent Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein as Weinstein faces criminal charges for rape and sexual assault. Activists have since called for Sullivan to step down and made several demands of the College, including that it should select an “alternate” to perform Sullivan’s Commencement duties.
Following a review of the House’s “climate,” Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced May 11 that Sullivan and Robinson would not return to Winthrop in the fall, though they would continue until the end of their term on June 30.
“Between now and June 30, the College will work with Deans Sullivan and Robinson to assist them with upcoming events, such as Commencement, housing, and financial administration,” Khurana wrote in his email announcing the deans’ impending departure.
Graduating seniors receive their diplomas midday during Commencement at their houses. Typically, the house’s faculty deans hand out the diplomas.
Most of Thursday’s ceremony proceeded as usual for Sullivan and Robinson, who attended morning Commencement exercises, addressed graduates and family members on Winthrop's lawn, and delivered the vast majority of diplomas.
In his comments to the audience, however, Sullivan noted the logistical change and attributed it to the size of the graduating class.
“We have more graduates this year than we have had in any year in our 10-year tenure as faculty deans, so we're going to split the workload by three,” he said. “I'm going to award some, Faculty Dean Robinson is going to award some, and our long-time senior common member Professor Intisar Rabb — professor of law, professor of history at Harvard — is going to award some.”
Sullivan and Robinson handed out diplomas first. They divided the class in half and awarded diplomas to students in alphabetical order, occasionally skipping students. Rabb then followed the pair, handing the remaining diplomas to those whom the deans had skipped.
Though he did not discuss the distribution of diplomas any further, Sullivan also noted the controversy that had encircled Winthrop over the course of the semester.
“It goes without saying that during this past semester, we have experienced at Winthrop House some disquiet and some discord,” he said. “I have enormous pride in how most Winthropians have behaved in times of challenge and controversy. It is indeed a measure of our collective character.”
A number of protests followed Sullivan’s announcement that he would represent Weinstein. Protesters staged a sit-in at the House earlier this month, and earlier in the semester, a vandal spray painted slogans on the House’s exterior calling on Sullivan to step down.
The controversy over Sullivan’s representation of Weinstein comes at the close of his and Robinson’s decade-long leadership of the house, which has previously been marred by accusations that the pair have created a toxic and retaliatory environment for House employees.
Just one day after The Crimson reported the allegations against Sullivan and Robinson, Khurana announced that he would let the pair go.
Winthrop students made up a small portion of the 1,554 College graduates who received degrees Thursday.