Harvard’s first black faculty deans let go amid uproar over Harvey Weinstein defense

Weinstein is scheduled for trial in June in New York on rape and related charges.

Attorney Ronald Sullivan, for Harvey Weinstein, enters State Supreme Court in April.
Attorney Ronald Sullivan, for Harvey Weinstein, enters State Supreme Court in April. –Richard Drew / AP Photo

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Harvard said Saturday that a law professor who is representing Harvey Weinstein would not continue as faculty dean of an undergraduate house, bowing to months of pressure from students who had demanded the removal of the professor from his role as dean.

The professor, Ronald Sullivan, and his wife, Stephanie Robinson, who is a lecturer at the law school, have been the faculty deans of Winthrop House, one of Harvard’s residential colleges for undergraduate students, since 2009. They were the first African-American faculty deans in Harvard’s history.

But when Sullivan joined the defense team of Weinstein, the Hollywood producer, in January, many students expressed dismay, saying that his decision to represent a person accused of abusing women made Sullivan no longer qualified to serve in a role of support and mentorship to students.

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Weinstein is scheduled for trial in June in New York on rape and related charges.

As the protests continued, with graffiti aimed at Sullivan showing up on the door of a university building, Harvard administrators said they would do what they called a “climate review” of Winthrop House. In recent weeks, tensions have escalated, as students held a sit-in and as a clash between one of the students leading the protests and two Winthrop House staff members who were seen as supporting Sullivan sparked a lawsuit.

On Saturday, the dean of Harvard College, Rakesh Khurana, sent an email to students and staff members at Winthrop House, saying that Sullivan and Robinson would not continue as faculty deans after their terms end June 30. Khurana said in his email that the decision was informed “by a number of considerations.”

“Over the last few weeks, students and staff have continued to communicate concerns about the climate in Winthrop House to the college,” he wrote. “The concerns expressed have been serious and numerous. The actions that have been taken to improve the climate have been ineffective, and the noticeable lack of faculty dean presence during critical moments has further deteriorated the climate in the house. I have concluded that the situation in the house is untenable.”

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Neither Sullivan nor Robinson could immediately be reached for comment Saturday. The decision not to renew their appointments as faculty deans does not affect their appointments at the law school, where Sullivan is the Jesse Climenko Clinical Professor of Law and director of the Criminal Justice Institute.

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