Sullivan and Harvard lecturer Stephanie Robinson, a married couple, both served as the first black deans in the school’s undergraduate Winthrop House. Though Sullivan has since withdrawn from the Weinstein case and Robinson was never part of it, neither will be welcomed back after their terms end on June 30, Harvard Dean Rakesh Khurana said in a statement Saturday, calling it “a regrettable situation.”
“Over the last few weeks, students and staff have continued to communicate concerns about the climate in Winthrop House to the College,” Khurana said. “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.”
Harvard’s decision came two days before a court approved Sullivan’s request to withdraw from the Weinstein team.
In a joint statement sent Monday to HuffPost, Sullivan and Robinson said they were “surprised and dismayed” by Khurana’s decision.
“We believed the discussions we were having with high level University representatives were progressing in a positive manner, but Harvard unilaterally ended those talks,” they said. “We are sorry that Harvard’s actions and the controversy surrounding us has contributed to the stress on Winthrop students at this already stressful time.”
The couple said their next steps would be to process the school’s actions and “consider our options.”
Sullivan announced in January that he would represent Weinstein, according to The Harvard Crimson, who is scheduled to stand trial in September for charges of sexual assault and rape. Outraged Harvard students began protesting Sullivan in response, culminating in a 178-person sit-in last week at the Winthrop dining hall where students waved Me Too signs.
Last Friday, The Crimson reported that several current and former Winthrop staffers claimed to have witnessed “a workplace climate of hostility and suspicion generated by” Sullivan and Robinson.
While Sullivan faced strong criticism from some within the Harvard community, in March, the school’s Black Law Students Association defended his decision to represent Weinstein, condemning the notion that those accused of sexual assault are undeserving of legal counsel.
The organization also called the school’s response “outsized,” arguing that it was characterized by “racist undertones.”
Furthermore, the HBLSA denounced what it called efforts “to scapegoat Professor Sullivan for the ongoing failures of the University to effectively address the many issues of sexual assault on campus.”
On Monday, Sullivan told HuffPost he was no longer representing the film producer, pointing to a scheduling conflict with the trial date. Though Sullivan has made his exit from the Weinstein team, he said he would continue to be available to the defense “for advice and consultation.”
Addressing the controversy over his initial decision to work for Weinstein, Sullivan said, “My representation of those accused of sexual assault does not speak to my personal views on any of these matters.”
A spokesperson for Weinstein told HuffPost “Weinstein is extremely grateful to Ronald Sullivan for his work with him until now, and for Ron’s offer to advise where he can going forward.”
“Mr. Sullivan believed that Mr. Weinstein deserved a vigorous defense, and it is a sad moment for us all right now. We, as a country, have now reached the point when a Harvard lawyer and professor cannot serve his duty to, and belief in, the law and defend a person who may be deemed unpopular or unworthy of a legal defense by segments of the public.”
Both Sullivan and Robinson will still be able to teach and lecture at Harvard, though it’s unclear whether they’ll decide to do so after losing their deanships.
Winthrop is one of 12 residential locations on Harvard’s campus where undergraduate students socialize and dine. The school’s website likens it to the fictional Gryffindor house from the “Harry Potter” series, boasting tight-knit relationships, a lion mascot and a slew of famous alums from the Kennedys to actor B.J. Novak.
Deans like Sullivan and Robinson are responsible for leading and setting the tone of their respective houses, according to Harvard’s description of the position.