Harvard recently fired a residence hall dean, law professor Ronald Sullivan.
Some students had complained that because Sullivan took accused sexual harasser Harvey Weinstein as a client, they felt “unsafe.”
John Stossel interviews Alan Dershowitz, who says Harvard’s decision endangers academic freedom.
“They’re lying,” Dershowitz tells Stossel about the students who claim to feel unsafe. “They don’t feel unsafe. They’ve learned the language of the New McCarthyism.”
“He didn’t get fired from his professor job,” Stossel points out to Dershowitz. “Don’t the students have a right to say, ‘look, we’re living with this guy. He creeps us out because of what he does. Get somebody else.'”
Dershowitz responds: “If they could say that, they could say it about somebody who supports Donald Trump for President, somebody who is a Muslim, somebody who’s gay, somebody who’s Jewish.”
He adds: “We need to educate our students that free speech is for everybody. Due process is for everybody.”
Fired dean Ronald Sullivan often represents unpopular people — not just the accused sexual assaulter, but accused murderers and terrorists. He’s explained why: “In order for the rights of all of us, the rights of the guilty and the innocent alike to be protected, we have to live in a system where we vigorously, vigorously defend the guilty.”
Stossel agrees, only through that process can we be confident that the people punished are really guilty.
Harvard’s student protesters didn’t seem to care about that.
“Because of Dean Sullivan’s decision to represent – I don’t feel welcome here,” one said.
“These students would have fired John Adams,” Dershowitz responds, “because he had defended the people who were accused of the Boston Massacre.”
Adams, a Harvard graduate, defended British soldiers who fired at Americans — and he got most of the soldiers acquitted.
Adams defended them even though he opposed the British, and risked his life by helping lead the Continental Congress in its revolution against Britain.
“And yet,” Dersowiitz notes, “he thought the right to represent somebody transcends any of these other ideological or political issues.”
Later in life, Adams called his defense of the British soldiers: “one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country. Judgment of death … would have been as foul a stain upon this country as the executions of … witches.”
At the Marginal Revolution blog, Tyler Cowen writes, “Harvard is basically right … It really is about helping students focus on their studies … removing distractions.”
“They say [Sullivan’s representation of Weinstein] distracts them. I can see their point … these people live together,” Stossel tells Dershowitz.
“I don’t see their point at all!” Dershowitz responds. “You live in a world where there are going to be many distractions. You’re not going to live in a world where you can determine everything according to your own view. If you want to do that, move to China or Iran … [if] you want to go to an American university, you have to learn how to deal with distractions.”