The mob vs. the rule of law

A very good take on the Harvard thing from Marginal Revolution:

The current Harvard disaster was clearly signaled by earlier events, most notably the 2019 firing of Dean Ronald Sullivan. Sullivan is a noted criminal defense attorney; he was the director of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and he is the Director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School, he advised President Obama on criminal justice issues, he represented the family of Michael Brown. He and his wife were the first black Faculty Deans in the history of the college.

Controversy erupted, however, when Sullivan joined Harvey Weinstein’s legal defense team. Student protests ensued. The students argued that they couldn’t feel safe” if a legal representative of a person accused of abusing women was also serving in a role of student support and mentorship.

Of course, even if one admits guilt, one should still have an attorney representing one’s interests and that all the procedures of due process are observed. That’s the point of a having a legal system instead of vigilante justice.

Harvard should have educated their students. Harvard should have emphasized the crucial role of criminal defense in American law and history. They should have noted that a cornerstone of the rule of law is the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial, irrespective of public opinion.

Instead of educating its students, Harvard catered to ignorance, bias and hysteria by removing both Sullivan and his wife from their deanships. Thus Harvard tarred Sullivan and his wife, undermined the rule of law and elevated the rule of the mob. Claudine Gay, then Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, contributed to the ignorance, bias and hysteria.

I get the point about educating students, but if students at one of the most elite universities in the world don’t already understand something that I remember learning in my middle school civics class, the problem runs deeper than mere ignorance.

Harvard should have pointed proudly to John Adams, a Harvard alum, who defied popular opinion to defend hated British soldiers charged with murdering Americans at the Boston Massacre. (If you wish to take measure of the quality of our times it’s worth noting that Adams won the case and later became president—roughly equivalent to an attorney for accused al-Qaeda terrorists becoming President today.)

Different times, but that’s unimaginable in our soundbite media culture.