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Winthrop Faculty Deans Announce Plans to Challenge Harvard

Winthrop House is one of Harvard's twelve residential houses.
Winthrop House is one of Harvard's twelve residential houses. By Quinn G. Perini
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: June 14, 2019 at 5:38 p.m.

Ousted Winthrop House Faculty Deans Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. and Stephanie R. Robinson said they plan to challenge Harvard in an online video posted Wednesday.

In the five minute statement, Sullivan and Robinson sharply criticized College administrators’ decision not to renew their contracts as faculty deans and defended their tenure. They also said they plan to launch a campaign centered around free speech and open discourse on campus.

“For a decade, we have thoroughly enjoyed helping to create a home away from home for all our students. We served as faculty deans with integrity, with love, with empathy, and kindness,” Robinson said.

Sullivan and Robinson did not respond to a request for comment on what form their challenge would take. In a statement to the Boston Globe, Robinson said the pair has “resolved” their dispute with Harvard.

“We are here today to help restore academic freedom, reasoned discourse, and honor at Harvard College,” Sullivan said in the video. “What’s at stake here is not my future, or ours, or even our family’s. We will be fine. What’s at stake are the values that underwrite the best traditions of higher education.”

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana first announced he would not renew the pair’s appointment at Winthrop on May 11, citing an “untenable” environment in the house. His decision followed months of campus protests arguing that Sullivan’s representation of former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was incompatible with his role serving undergraduates. Sullivan is no longer representing Weinstein due to conflicts with his teaching schedule.

Sullivan and Robinson both said in their video message they believe the College’s decision was primarily based on Sullivan’s decision to represent Weinstein.

“Let’s be clear. It was my willingness to represent Mr. Weinstein in the first place that prompted a furor and ultimately Harvard’s decision to dismiss us as faculty deans,” Sullivan said. “We know this to be true, as does the Harvard community — including its most senior leaders.”

College spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote in an emailed statement Thursday that the College’s decision not to renew Sullivan and Robinson was not a direct consequence of Sullivan’s decision to represent Weinstein.

“As we have repeatedly stated, 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,” she wrote.

The day before Khurana announced his decision, The Crimson reported that a dozen current and former Winthrop staff alleged that Sullivan and Robinson created a toxic work environment that stretched back years. At one point, 13 tutors threatened to quit though they ultimately stayed.

Sullivan and Robinson also told the Globe they did not have advance notice about an April suit filed by Winthrop tutors Carl L. Miller and Valencia Miller against Eliot House Faculty Dean Gail A. O’Keefe. The pair allege that O’Keefe made defamatory statements about their “professional reputation” and a confrontation with a student in an email to Eliot House students.

Sullivan and Robinson’s comments come just weeks before their term ends on June 30. The College has not yet announced interim leadership for Winthrop. Permanent leadership will be selected during the coming academic year in order to involve students in the selection process, according to Dane.

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

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