Statement: Harvard President Bacow should put an end to Sullivan controversy

February 28, 2019

Statement by FIRE President Greg Lukianoff:

Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow should take this controversy as an opportunity to do what is now all too uncommon for university leadership: take a vocal and explicit stand against demands that a professor be stripped of his position for ideological reasons. In this case, some students are demanding that Professor Ronald Sullivan be stripped of a position not only because he chose to take on a client accused of despicable acts, but also because he expressed a critical opinion about the lack of due process afforded to a professor accused of sexual harassment.

Rather than bending over backwards to placate these demands, President Bacow should explain, clearly and unapologetically, that Harvard students must learn how to live in a world in which others may disagree with them on fundamental issues.

President Bacow should further explain the essentiality of the right of all Americans to a zealous legal defense. It is not up to Harvard students to decide in advance who is guilty of serious charges and who is undeserving of a chance to clear his or her name.

President Bacow can and should recognize students’ rights to protest and criticize Professor Sullivan while making it clear that under absolutely no circumstances will Sullivan be in any way punished or reprimanded for his opinions or the acts his clients are alleged to have committed. Indeed, if President Bacow had been out in front of this issue and stated these positions early on, the controversy might already have begun to subside.

President Bacow now has the opportunity to serve as a national role model for how universities can handle these situations going forward while protecting the freedom of speech, academic freedom, and professional integrity of its professors and students.


Schools:  Harvard University