Randall Kennedy’s Bold Defense

When an editorial at Harvard’s newspaper, The Crimson, called for law prof Ronald Sullivan’s head, his resignation or dismissal as “faculty dean,” previously known as housemaster before “master” was excised from the language regardless of its reference, the rationale offered a clear vision of how chaos theory trumped attenuation.

Sullivan has failed to address the incongruity of his two roles — defending Weinstein in his role as defense attorney, while simultaneously working to promote a safe and comfortable environment for victims of sexual misconduct and assault in his capacity as faculty dean. We condemn his choice to represent Weinstein and urge him to address the tension between the two roles more directly than he previously has.

As an aside, is the role of faculty dean to “promote a safe and comfortable environment for victims”? This might be taken for granted now, but it’s the sort of rhetorical twist that slips in unnoticed. The post is to be the grown up, the faculty member, to support all students in his care, in Winthrop House. Sullivan’s job wasn’t dedicated to the service of female victimhood.

Sullivan was just as obliged to care for the student accused of committing the sin of “unwelcome conduct of sexual nature” as its “survivor.” They’re both students. The faculty dean is there for both of them, not just the woman. But I digress.

The problem is that to defend Sullivan by pointing out that his service as a lawyer to an accused has nothing to do with his ability to serve the students of Winthrop House does the unthinkable. It disputes the feelings of the students who have demonstrated the inability to distinguish entirely unrelated functions.

It’s easy for someone outside to point this out, but then outsiders are easily dismissed, either as misogynists or just incapable of appreciating how horrifying and exhausting it is to be a victim at Harvard. But to defend Sullivan from inside the Academy is to court suicide. The mob of unduly passionate students will ascribe the same claims of fear and loathing that they transferred from Weinstein and Fryer, the sources of their outrage, to Sullivan to his defender. Who would have the boldness, the intellectual honesty, the integrity, to tell these darling, if overly sensitive, students they were wrong, only to have the entitled mob flip on them?

Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy has the guts to call bullshit.

A faculty dean is absolutely obligated to do all that he or she reasonably can to promote an environment free of harassment or assault. And anyone in a position of authority on campus is obligated to know that victims of sexual assault have long been cruelly underserved, and that this institutional injustice urgently warrants remedy. But why is it sensible to think that fulfillment of that obligation is compromised because of service as counsel to even a notorious defendant in a prosecution for sex crimes? The position advanced by the editorial board would presumably disqualify any lawyer who represents or has represented people accused of sex offenses.

Forgive him his Gertruding. To suggest otherwise is an impossibility these days, and the students are so inured to tummy rubs that it would be tantamount to promoting rape to point out that the Harvard definition of harassment, whatever a recipient of communication feels it is, whether at the moment of years later, is irreconcilable with any rational notion. Nor could he deny that they are all victims, and that their victimhood is the worst thing ever, notwithstanding that there are people who suffer real harms and then Harvard victims who hear an off-color joke and, at a convenient moment, collapse into self-diagnosed PTSD that will destroy their life.

The Association of Black Harvard Women maintains that Sullivan’s involvement in the Harvey Weinstein case “will only work to embolden rape culture on this campus.” Omitted from this reckless assertion is any theory, much less evidence, supporting it.

Calling out this group invokes the double whammy, race and gender, and that makes one a doubly horrible person. Kennedy points out that this cry is, well, devoid of anything remotely resembling logic. It “emboldens rape culture,” whatever that means, because it does. In the general scheme of Harvard discourse, this is not only good enough, but conclusive when it comes from such an unchallengeable source. Yet, Kennedy challenges them because what they said is inane and baseless.

Kennedy points out Sullivan’s bona fides, both as lawyer and professor, as well as the obvious, yet lost in the outrage sauce is the recognition that criminal defense lawyers defend people accused of crimes, as our system mandates. These aren’t really high order arguments. For most of us, they’re too obvious to be worthy of mention, as no rational person can possibly fail to grasp that lawyer isn’t client, that Sullivan is defending the accused, not the crime, that as-yet-unproven crimes by Weinstein aren’t a disease that’s metastasized in Ronald Sullivan’s dark heart.

But for all his needless equivocation, confession of belief in the god rape culture, banality of his points sweetly wrapped in the moderated language of the Academy, Kennedy has done the unthinkable. He has stood up against the mob.

That “progressive” activists could denounce so bitterly a person who has demonstrated so clearly a commitment to inclusive, humane, liberal values and practices is indicative of a concerted illiberalism that is menacing university life. As this controversy unfolds, one can only hope that Harvard authorities will decline to defer to expressions of noisy discomfort and instead adhere to those intellectual and moral tenets that sometimes must bear the uncomfortable burden of complexity. 

It’s more than a hint in his closing paragraph, his mention of “‘progressive’ activists” and their “noisy discomfort,” with their “concerted illiberalism,” that Kennedy has taken the unthinkable risk of defying the sad tears of the most traumatized of humanity, Harvard women, and told them to grow up, to “bear the uncomfortable burden of complexity.”

All this raises one unanswered question: where are all the other academics, from Harvard and every other college and university, standing up for Ronald Sullivan and expecting the unduly passionate and traumatized children in their charge to grow up? Why is Randall Kennedy alone in challenging the simplistic idiocy of the mob?

14 thoughts on “Randall Kennedy’s Bold Defense

  1. Raccoon Strait

    I am looking forward to the time when some school mandates a class for all sexes that goes about training the attendees in evidence collection when situations become uncomfortable enough to report. The fairer sexes will understand what they must collect in order to drive their discomfort home. The less fair sexes will understand what they must do to protect themselves when approaching the point of a good night kiss, or further.

    All sides will then exhibit behavior that will end anyone else having concern about overpopulation in these United States, as any activity that would contribute would come to a roaring screeching halt, and the porn industry will have extremely successful decades as college students everywhere turn to self gratification to gentle those raging urges. The resulting decline in US population won’t be a problem, as there are many who would love to immigrate here. The culture shock from those of college age however might send a few emigres back to their home of origin, or Canada.

    1. SHG Post author

      If the kids were half as brilliant as they think they are, they might realize that the only possible outcome of this satanic panic is their own ever-greater misery.

  2. B. McLeod

    This psychological vulnerability stuff and the need to put it before all else just keeps going down the track. A few weeks ago, I saw an article about an author who claimed he was suffering “secondary PTSD” as a result of researching and writing about school shootings. As this catches on, the vast majority of lawyers (and probably everybody) will likely come to realize that they, too, have “secondary PTSD” from working injury and death cases, or simply having witnessed the traumatic experiences of others. We are not far from the point where every day of every person’s life in our entire society will be deemed a Hellish expanse of psychological trauma, such that nobody, anywhere, will be able to function.

    1. SHG Post author

      Maybe we can all go on SSDI for our secondary, even tertiary, self-diagnosed PTSD and then we won’t need Universal Guaranteed Income. Or jobs.

      1. Casual Lurker

        “Maybe we can all go on SSDI for our secondary, even tertiary, self-diagnosed PTSD…”

        Ha! Even those with primary PTSD have trouble getting on SSDI.

        The SSA’s POMS* requires us to specify and characterize any psych conditions in terms of DSM-III. That’s not a typo! One senior district administrator told me that “allowing the use of DSM-IV would bankrupt the system in under a decade.”**

        When DSM-V was released, half kidding, I asked if we could move up to DSM-IV. He just rolled his eyes and walked away.

        As such, we’ve learned to be creative in translating differences from later editions to meet the criteria specified in DSM-III. Conveniently, Newton’s third law again proves malleable beyond the physical universe.

        *POMS = Program Operation Manual System, the administrative rulebook for managing the various disability programs (SSI, SSDI, DAC/CDB, Etc.)

        **This ignores that in a majority of cases it just transfers an often greater cost to other systems (criminal justice, etc).

        1. SHG Post author

          There are few things that make me feel more valuable than a quip about SSDIs devolving into a DSM-V deep dive, which is always fascinating. Or is this more orthogonal factoid stuff to remind me of your interests? It’s unclear.

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