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Sullivan’s Professional Priority Dilemma

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Last week, RealClearInvestigations published an article citing Winthrop House Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr. as the lawyer of Economics professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr., whose alleged sexual misconduct has brought the #MeToo movement closer to home for the Harvard community. Asked twice by The Crimson whether he represents Fryer, Sullivan avoided directly answering the question.

The Office of Dispute Resolution opened three investigations on three separate Title IX inquiries into Fryer and, while ODR has issued a report on two of the three complaints, it is still investigating the third sexual harassment complaint against Fryer. In the Jan. 29 article, Sullivan characterized ODR’s investigations as “deeply flawed and deeply unfair.”

Amid the news of Sullivan’s involvement in the investigations surrounding Fryer, the faculty dean’s decision to defend former film executive Harvey Weinstein in his Manhattan sex abuse case is still sending shockwaves across the College and especially within Winthrop House. On Monday night, in response to the debate, Sullivan announced in an email the designation of Winthrop Resident Dean Linda D. M. Chavers as the House’s “point person” for issues relating to sexual assault and harassment. We believe that Sullivan took a necessary step in designating a separate administrator to address the future needs of Winthrop students relating to sexual assault and harassment, as we strongly advocated for this action on Friday. Given the new developments surrounding Fryer, however, we feel that Sullivan’s decision was regrettably reactionary.

Sullivan’s involvement in both of these high-profile cases have come to light not by his own admission, but through news stories that have seemingly left him on the defensive. In the last few weeks, Sullivan has reacted to criticisms instead of proactively demonstrating a socially aware sense of the community he leads. We call on Sullivan to be more straightforward and transparent when informing House affiliates of his choices of representation, especially in areas where cases may harm the relationship between him and his students.

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Sullivan increasingly must make clear his priorities to the Winthrop and wider College communities, which greatly depend on him. Is he a faculty dean first, or a defense attorney? We also call on him to thoughtfully consider whether he can continue serving as a leader and mentor to undergraduates while simultaneously taking on controversial public positions with the capacity to alienate many in Winthrop House.

In the days following the news of his decision to represent Weinstein last week, Sullivan explained his motivation for doing so by citing the need to defend unpopular figures and the undeniable right of due process. If Sullivan’s reasons for taking on this case are truly based on principle, then we also call on him — in a gesture of good faith — to donate some portion of his retainer from Weinstein to organizations that support victims of sexual harassment and assault. Sullivan might consider groups such as the transgender anti-violence organization Forge, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Safe Horizon, Students Active for Ending Rape (a group focusing on supporting student movements), and a number of others.

As faculty dean, Sullivan has the capacity to provide critical support, guidance, and inspiration to a broad group of undergraduates. Such power should neither be taken lightly nor treated like a second priority. Given his involvement in such high-profile cases in his career, Sullivan must communicate clearly with his students about his role in those proceedings, make a concerted effort to provide other resources that can step in where he may leave gaps, and maintain an ongoing dialogue not merely about the civil ethics of his legal work but also about how that work may impact the emotions and sense of security of his students.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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