Longtime Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz has accused his own academic institution of succumbing to McCarthyism for the firing of professor Ron Sullivan and his wife, Stephanie Robinson, from their positions as co-deans of Winthrop House simply because Sullivan represents a man accused of rape.
Dershowitz noted that lawyers reserve the right to represent anyone accused of any crime without fear of repercussions. He harkened back to the 1950s and 1960s, when lawyers who represented Communists or civil rights activists were fired from academic positions. The difference between Sullivan and those cases, however, is the university’s reasoning. In those days, the firings were politically motivated; in Sullivan’s case, the firing stemmed from student complaints.
“Many troubling arguments have been offered in defense of the decision not to renew Sullivan’s role as dean of Winthrop House,” Dershowitz noted. “The most common — and dangerous — is that students feel ‘unsafe’ around a lawyer who is representing Weinstein.”
“Feeling ‘unsafe’ is the new mantra for the new McCarthyism,” he continued. “It is a totally phony argument not deserving of any serious consideration. Any student who feels unsafe in the presence of two distinguished lawyers doesn’t belong at a university. They should leave and not force the firing of the professor. The ‘unsafe argument’ could be made against a dean who is gay, Black, Muslim, Jewish, Republican or libertarian. No credence should be given to the argument, especially since the students apparently did not feel ‘unsafe’ when Sullivan was representing a convicted double murderer.”
Dershowitz was referring to Sullivan’s previous defense of ex-NFL New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez.
By allowing students to dictate the law faculty based on how comfortable the person’s clients (past or present) make the students feel, Dershowitz argued that Harvard set a dangerous precedent that could lead to serious repercussions in the long term.
“It shows a complete lack of leadership by those in charge and willingness to pander to students no matter how irrational their arguments,” wrote Dershowitz. “It also reflects an unwillingness to accept the presumption of innocence. One colleague of mine put it well when he said that ‘Some people regard rape so heinous a crime that even innocence should not be accepted as a defense.'”
Harvard had already been treading this dangerous path of hectoring faculty based on the outcries of an angry mob long before Sullivan, and for far less serious offenses. In 2005, Harvard President Larry Summers faced a cavalcade of hate for suggesting that sexual differences between men and women may be partially responsible for the dearth of female representation in STEM fields. He resigned one year later, presumably at least partially because of the intense backlash and accusations of sexism.
Students at George Mason University recently protested to have Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh ousted from teaching a summer course in England; fortunately, President Angel Cabrera told them all to take a hike.