Harvard University is messing with academic freedom.
In a stunning display of ignorance about the U.S. legal system — not to mention a breathtaking cluelessness about the nature of justice and the rule of law — some Harvard students precipitated the firing of Ronald Sullivan, a law school professor, and his wife, Stephanie Robinson, a law school lecturer.
The couple will keep their teaching posts but will no longer be faculty deans at Winthrop House, one of the university’s undergraduate dorms — Harvard calls them “residences.”
Some Winthrop students protested Mr. Sullivan’s joining Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s legal defense team.
The protesters claim Mr. Sullivan’s client selection scares them. Why? Because Mr. Weinstein faces multiple sexual assault charges leveled by multiple Hollywood actresses.
No, I don’t understand why they think that’s scary.
Are these Harvard students scared Mr. Sullivan won’t be the moral paradigm for which they so desperately long and which they so desperately need in the person of a dormitory master?
Of course not. They simply don’t like their dorm dad’s defending a man accused of sexual predation. Such defense implies a condoning of powerful men abusing vulnerable women.
Harvard Law Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz is not amused with this Winthrop line of reasoning.
“This may be the worst violation of academic freedom during my 55-year association with Harvard,” said Mr. Dershowitz, a freedom-first liberal who repeatedly has come to the defense of President Trump against American liberalism’s growing cadre of intolerance mutants.
Remember that academic freedom should be — and once was — the common and priceless bond between conservatism and liberalism, the two principal strains of American political thought.
Which whips us back to the question of how can it be that students started this mess?
Did they never learn that, in every legal system that claims fairness, the burden of proof is on the accuser and not the accused?
How could it be that students at Harvard or any other university don’t know or don’t care that a defendant is presumed to be not guilty unless and until proven otherwise in a court of law?
The presumption of innocence is not exactly a new invention. Even the crowd that always wants to blame the West first must know that the presumption of innocence is not American in origin or even British.
Back the sixth century, Roman law held that the accuser bears the burden of proof.
Do these Harvard kids not know or care that the accused — it could be you — has a right to competent legal counsel?
How do you get into Harvard and not know or care that lawyers — especially trial lawyers — have an obligation to lend their talents and best efforts to the defense of unpopular causes and unlovely characters?
The ousting of Mr. Sullivan reminds Mr. Dershowitz “of the bad old days when lawyers were fired for representing communists, gay people, civil rights demonstrators and women seeking abortions.”
Mr. Dershowitz’s point here has nothing to do with whether abortion is OK or not.
It’s that no abortion foe who is also a constitutionalist and therefore supports the Sixth Amendment’s right-to-counsel guarantee would condone ruining the reputation of a lawyer for taking on a client accused of performing illegal abortions.
How do we wind up with such students at an elite institution of higher learning?
According to an exasperated Mr. Dershowitz, if the students who demanded the firing of Mr. Sullivan had been around in 1776, John Adams would have been fired as an author of the Declaration of Independence.
Because he would have made student protesters feel unsafe after he — a lawyer by trade — had represented British soldiers accused of killing American colonialists in the Boston Massacre.
“Any student who feels ‘unsafe’ in the presence of Dean Sullivan and his wife does not belong at a university,” Mr. Dershowitz said. ” ‘Feeling unsafe’ is the new mantra of the new McCarthyism. It’s an excuse for firing anyone, from a Republican to a Muslim.”
Mr. Dershowitz’s carefully burnished but well-deserved reputation as a moral lawyer willing to represent clients whom the public regards as immoral goes back at least to 1985. That’s when he won for his much-despised client, Claus Von Bulow, an appeal from a conviction of an attempt to murder his wife.
As for academic freedom at Harvard, there’s some good news. Thanks to countervailing pressure from 52 current and retired Harvard law professors — including former Harvard Law Dean Martha L. Minow and Professor Laurence H. Tribe —the university administration, while unhappy with his client choice, dared not take away Mr. Sullivan’s teaching job. Or his wife’s.
He will remain the Jesse Climenko clinical professor of law and the director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard. She will remain a lecturer.
The university’s cowardly acquiescence in the Winthrop students’ intolerance will, however, remain a blot on the record of academic freedom at Harvard.
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