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Ronald Sullivan: A Preposterous Victim of the Tall Poppy Syndrome

Doug Garland
Doug Garland
4 min read
Ronald Sullivan: A Preposterous Victim of the Tall Poppy Syndrome
A Zero Game for Sum by William D. Higginson (williamhigginson.com).

Table of Contents

                              When it rains it pours.                                                                               Morton Salt Company                                        (Or, the Ongoing Saga of  Claudine Gay)                                    

This blog was posted on Jun 11, 2019. Due to ongoing events involving Ms. Gay, I thought the post should be revisited as published.

                        Movement as a Cutter in the Tall Poppy Syndrome.

“When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled,” the Asian proverb states. The military calls it collateral damage. Some think the end justifies the means; some do not think but only feel.

Movements involve people participating in collective identity. They offer many a voice, especially from the silent, weak, or disenfranchised. Christianity began as a movement; now it is mature and structured. Our fight for independence from England was a movement as well as abolitionist and civil rights. Many are decentralized which enables emotion over the mind causing some to vanish.

Me Too movement began in 2006 by Tarana Burke to raise awareness of the sexual abuse and assault. The movement gained popularity in October 2017 when Actress Alyssa Milano’s viral tweet #METOO encouraged victims to tweet about sexual abuse, assault, and harassment, especially in the workplace. Coincident print articles reported that dozens of women, including Rose McGowan, accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual improprieties.

Ronald Sullivan is an industrial strength Tall Poppy — one of the nation’s star criminal defense attorneys. Sullivan graduated Phi Beta Kappa at Morehouse College and received a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School. He served as Director of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia never losing a case. After that, he cut his teeth on high-profile figures at power law firms in Washington, D.C. before joining Yale Law School where he garnered an Outstanding Teacher award.

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, then-Dean, recruited Sullivan to the Harvard Law School as Director of the Criminal Justice Institute (criminal defense lawyer for the indigent) and a criminal law and criminal procedure teacher. Many of his defense cases are national and pro bono. High-profile cases include involvement with the legal team of one of the Jena Six (six high school black students in Jena, Louisiana, were convicted of beating a white student in 2006) and ex-NFL New England Patriots Aaron Hernadez in his double murder case; attorney Jose Baez was also on the latter’s team. Baez and Sullivan were members of Rose McGowan’s legal defense team when she faced drug charges in Virginia (2017).

Sullivan and his Harvard alumna attorney wife, Stephanie Robinson, are Faculty Deans of Winthrop House at Harvard College where they live with their sons. The House is one of twelve residential houses with approximately 400 upper-class undergraduates. Famous former residents include John F. and Edward Kennedy.

Cutters. Sullivan and Jose Baez joined the legal defense team of Harvey Weinstein at the beginning of 2019. Some Harvard University students, faculty, and administrators criticized Sullivan’s decision while other students petitioned online to remove Sullivan as Faculty Dean of Winthrop House. Rose McGowan cried foul. Few came to his defense since they did not want to be labeled as rape sympathizers. The Dean of Harvard College announced in May that Sullivan and Robinson would not be reappointed when their terms expire at the end of June 2019 terminating their twenty-year run.

Cuttees. Sullivan was the main target in this debacle; his crime was practicing the tenets of his profession. However, all of us suffered or were cut down. Each of us lost a little liberty. Movements are like that. When movements flow large, they are like the Mississippi River and cut down everything in its path. They do not discriminate. The movement, flowing with emotion, decided Sullivan was liable for Weinstein’s behavior. Sullivan lost two jobs — the Faculty Dean position, as did his wife, and later resigned his position on Weinstein’s defense team. He may also have suffered a chink to his armor. Students lost a learning experience. Weinstein lost a legal scholar. Harvard, that tall sequoia, has another chink in its armor which is already chock-full as is its scroll. Harvard may be impossible to cut down but it can still lose relevance and reverence. Did someone just holler, “FIRE?”

                                        Addendum

This blog was written before Gay's infamy and identified her role in cutting down the pair.

From political pundit Wesley Yang (X):

As Dean of Faculty of Arts and Science, Gay refused to defend Sullivan’s right to provide legal counsel to an unpopular client and played a key role in the decision to remove him from his role as Harvard's first and only black faculty dean in response to student demands. In doing so, Gay shunted aside an appeal by 52 members of the Harvard Law School faculty, who in an open letter to the administration characterized the right to defend unpopular clients as foundational to their own academic freedom and to the rule of law itself.

As a result of cutting down both Sulivan and Robinson, many students met with Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair, and Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay in Winthrop Hall. The majority hugged and thanked the administrators for their decision to not renew their positions.

Gay has now been cut down by her egregious hubris, actions not related to this situation. Some would argue she was never a TP but that is beside the point. This case report is an example of peer-to-peer TPS (see, The Anatomy of the Tall Poppy Syndrome) which does not require either party to be a TP.

I doubt that Ron Sullivan experienced meaningful schadenfreude (see, schadenfreude). Her fall is a hollow victory for the pain, suffering, and loss of prestige he has suffered.

Ronald SullivanClaudine Gaytall poppy syndromehubristall poppy syndrome schadenfreude

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Douglas Garland, M.D. practiced orthopedic surgery for 37 years in Southern California. Doug was also a Clinical Professor of Orthopedics at the University of Southern California.

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