It was inevitable that the #MeToo movement, started with valid anger at sexual harassment, would open the door to bizarre accusations. It’s just surprising to see it go off the deep end at Harvard University, where rational thinking tied to principle is supposed to be a requirement for admission.
Do note that the student group hounding law school Dean Ronald S. Sullivan to resign is described as “small but vocal.” Dozens of law faculty have backed him. And many at Harvard no doubt find the histrionics deeply embarrassing.
But it’s amazing how far the aggrieved ones have gotten. They should know that they are a source of wonderment mainly because they are so obviously ignorant of the legal system and they’re supposed to be smart.
The rap against Sullivan is that he joined the team of lawyers defending Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer facing multiple charges of sexual harassment and worse. In the American judicial system, every defendant deserves legal representation. Ted Bundy and Timothy McVeigh had lawyers, none of whom approved of the client’s gruesome crimes. The legal aid movement rests on the belief that poor people have a right to adequate legal representation, whether they are innocent or not.
In a teaching moment, Sullivan tried to gently explain. “Lawyers are not an extension of their clients,” he said. Representing a client “doesn’t mean I’m supporting anything the client may have done.”
Sullivan is also African-American, which shouldn’t matter but seems to here. Some foes have weaponized race against him. In a public letter, the Association of Black Harvard Women wrote, “You have failed us.”
In cases where emotions overcome facts, the poorly armed resort to self-dramatization. Some #MeTooers put tape over their mouths. Get it? They’re not allowed to speak, which should come as a great surprise to their audiences.
Danu Mudannayake, a student, wrote in a petition, “Do you really want to one day accept your diploma from someone who … believes it is OK to defend such a prominent figure at the center of the #MeToo movement?” Why not? By the way, no one has to go to Harvard.
Some of the Harvard grown-ups are so lacking in courage that you almost feel sorry for them. Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana put in a good word for the right to skilled representation — but then called for a study of how students at Winthrop House, where Sullivan is a faculty dean, regard the law professor’s role in the Weinstein case. He called it a “climate review.” Uh-oh.
In a similar vein, another faculty dean, Diana L. Eck, said that everyone has the right to a strenuous defense but, on the other hand, Sullivan’s work is “fracturing that sense of community.” As if everyone in the community has to agree.
On campus, Sullivan’s picture is being paired with that of Roland Fryer, a renowned Harvard economist who is also African-American. Fryer is being dragged over the coals amid charges of sexual harassment. Why didn’t they add a portrait of the Marquis de Sade?
Fryer’s main crime seems to have been telling off-color jokes. Students in his teaching lab laughed at them, but, you see, that just showed the “power dynamics” between Fryer and the others. Of possible relevance, none of the women claims that Fryer made a pass at her or asked for sex.
You don’t really know what to make of all this. For the students, it’s kind of late in the game to develop a sense of humor. And for the administrators, well, their mouths have two sides, so why not talk out of both of them? That gives you plausible deniability at whatever party you attend.
So looking forward to the climate review.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.
IMAGE: A statue of John Harvard looks over Harvard Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts January 20, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder