The Nursery School Named Harvard

It came after the protests, the  crying, the deeply-hurt feelings of unsafety expressed by the students so brilliant they are capable of transmuting the pain of people far, far away to their own world, via a transmission system leaping from actress to movie mogul, from movie mogul to lawyer, from lawyer to housemaster faculty dean, and from there to students, to house culture, to the threat in the middle of the day or the middle of the night that waves of rapist threat will somehow permeate Winthrop House at Harvard College.

After all, this, the savvy students searched history like a twitter feed for that errant twit they could throw out and scream, “AHA!!! He was always awful.” And they believe it, because despite all their brilliance, they remain insipid children.

Harvard College, by its dean of Harvard College, Rakesh Khurana, decided not to renew the appointments of law prof Ronald Sullivan and his wife, law instructor, Stephanie Robinson, as faculty deans of Winthrop House. They were out. They were out because Sullivan joined the defense team for Harvey Weinstein.

But the too-smart children realized, given the backlash from Harvard law faculty and those who didn’t feel the transmutation as they did, that their tears over a lawyer representing a defendant whom they hated played poor to others, and so they contrived to come up with excuses that had nothing to do with Weinstein.

When Winthrop Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr. met with House tutors on Jan. 27 to defend his representation of accused sexual harasser Harvey Weinstein, House scholar-in-residence Robert E. Proctor made a passing reference to issues from “three years ago.”

The reference may have gone unnoticed by newer staffers, but a couple of tutors at the meeting interpreted it as a warning recalling the ugly history of complaints about leadership and perceived retaliation that have dogged Winthrop for years.

If there was a problem three years ago, then it should have been addressed three years ago. After all, it was an “ugly history of complaints,” which certainly makes it sound rather serious. Or it’s the adjectives used by the Crimson today to reinvent history to manufacture a post-hoc excuse. Some tutors at Winthrop House didn’t get along with Sullivan? Oh my.

But seven current and former Winthrop staff, including tutors, told The Crimson in interviews conducted over the past three months that they experienced a culture of fear while they worked or lived in the House — fear of being chastised in front of their colleagues, fear of damage to their career prospects, and fear of being fired.

It’s almost unimaginable that people who fail to perform competently might be forced to live in a “culture of fear” that they might be fired for their incompetence or insubordination. At least unimaginable at Harvard, even if considered utterly normal at less elite dorms.

There is little to say about Harvard’s decision to pander to their students. The kids feel the ziff waves of transmuted unsafeness that travel from Weinstein into their dorm climate, and can’t get beyond their fear to grasp that lawyers defend the accused, even those who hurt their feelings rather than fit into their ideal of a defendant they could support. The letter from the law faculty, and discussion here and elsewhere, has already exhausted the obvious.

The students at Harvard might have done well on their SATs, but failed maturity with the facilitation of the college.

Though individual students like Mudannayake and Kaufman started organizing efforts against Sullivan, pre-existing student groups including anti-sexual assault advocacy group Our Harvard Can Do Better and the Association of Black Harvard Women often joined them. ABHW released a statement in February calling on Sullivan to step down, and Our Harvard Can Do Better staged a sit-in at Winthrop dining hall to “reclaim” the House.

“I wish that it hadn’t taken so long had it required so many students to put their mental health, well-being, and potentially even their futures on the line in order to get that change to occur. But it did happen, we are here now,” Gill said.

Their “mental health” was not put at risk by Ron Sullivan defending Weinstein. Firing Sullivan will not cure their “mental health” issues. And even smart children crafting a lie to excuse their infantile tantrum won’t conceal that Harvard’s putative grown-ups empowered them to remain children.

Ms. Mudannayake said on Saturday that she was in the dining hall with the deans, and the mood was “very happy.”

“They’re all there and addressing concerns, questions, even just people who want to say thank you to them,” she said. “I think that’s added to the kind of celebratory atmosphere.”

The children of Harvard are happy. A lawyer was punished for representing a reviled accused. All is well at the nursery school.

18 thoughts on “The Nursery School Named Harvard

  1. Alan

    I have nothing particularly interesting to say–certainly nothing to add to your discussion–but I won’t let that stop me. Thank you for continuing to call out the infantilization of our institutions.

  2. L. Phillips

    Regardless of the time or the paradigm one thing never changes. Scalps must be taken and displayed.

  3. Steve Brecher

    “they contrived to come up with excuses that had nothing to do with Weinstein”

    Perhaps they did so contrive. But in my opinion there is more evidence in the linked Crimson article than warrants brushing off complaints about Sullivan’s past behavior as entirely pretext. I was struck, e.g., by the huge turnover in House Administrators during Sullivan’s decade as a house dean.

    It’s likely that the Weinstein representation protests are the cause of these past behaviors being subject to administrative investigation now, and it’s plausible that the administration is relieved by the result they came to. But neither that likelihood nor plausibility is sufficient to show that the result is not justified by Sullivan’s past behavior.

    The other Winthrop House faculty dean, Robinson, Sullivan’s wife, was also dismissed. I have not encountered any student protests against her related to Sullivan’s representation of Weinstein. I acknowledge that her dismissal is not evidence of good faith on the part of the administration.

    The dismissals are a good occasion to continue to make the point about every defendant’s right to representation. But at this juncture accusing Harvard of acting solely in craven response to student intellectual immaturity seems premature.

    1. SHG Post author

      Some people are more susceptible to the influence of horseshit than others. Some people find that charming. I do not.

    2. Skink

      Did you mean to say something? You assume, transpose and use weasel words to the point that you utter dust. Don’t you see?

      A very good lawyer represents an unpopular client and gets punished. Any lawyer not seeing the problem needs to turn in their card.

  4. Richard Kopf


    Your reference to children is buttressed by Harvard itself and particularly the residence house from which Professor Sullivan was unceremoniously dumped for daring to do what lawyers do.

    “If the Harvard College House System is best compared to Hogwarts, then Winthrop is definitely the Gryffindor of the 12 undergraduate Houses of Harvard College.” (From the Harvard Website.)

    All the best, particularly when it comes to Witchcraft and Wizardry!


      1. Richard Kopf

        Sorry to mix metaphors, but the guy who fired Sullivan reminds me of the Gollum. All the best, my precious.


        1. B. McLeod

          But of course, Gollum was really two people, and at some point will no doubt be revealed as gender-fluid to bolster his character fan base.

  5. tk

    One looks longingly back to the good old days at Harvard Law when Dersh could defend someone like the vile Claus Von Bulow — and students would line up to help. Because, hey, they’re lawyers.

  6. B. McLeod

    It’s not all bad. This probably means Sullivan will get one of those “Courageous Lawyer” awards from ABA.

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