BOSTON - A Harvard Law School professor who became a lightning rod on the Ivy League campus for working on the legal defense team of Harvey Weinstein has been let go by the univeristy as a faculty dean.
Rakesh Khurana, dean of Harvard College, announced his decision in an email to residents of the school's Winthrop House, calling the situation "untenable" and saying it was "informed by a number of considerations."
Sullivan has been under fire from students since January when he emerged as one of the attorneys representing Weinstein in the media mogul's upcoming trial where he faces multiple sex-crime charges.
More: Harvard dean's legal defense of Harvey Weinstein sparks controversy on campus
But the controversy surrounding Sullivan - who presides over the Winthrop House with Robinson, his wife and also a Harvard law professor - escalated further amid recent reports from the student-run Harvard Crimson newspaper about numerous complaints against the couple since 2016 about their handling of house affairs.
"Over the last few weeks, students and staff have continued to communicate concerns about the climate in the Winthrop House to the college," Khurana said in the email. "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 has faculty deans to lead and reside at each of its 12 buildings that house undergraduate students. It's considered a powerful and prestigious position. Sullivan and Robinson were the first African-Americans to serve as faculty deans at Harvard.
In response to the university's decision, Sullivan and Robinson said they are "surprised and dismayed."
"We believed the discussions we were having with high level University representatives were progressing in a positive manner, but Harvard unilaterally ended those talks," the couple said in a joint statement.
The couple added that they "will now take some time to process Harvard's actions and consider our options. 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."
Harvard's action does not change their status as law school professors.
Khurana called the situation "regrettable" and said not renewing Sullivan and Robinson as faculty deans is a "very hard decision to make."
He said he has long admired their "commitment to justice and civic engagement" and the "good work they have done" to support diversity in the house community.
"This decision in no way lessens my gratitude to them for their contributions to the college," he said.
Sullivan, a prominent defense attorney nationally, had garnered calls for removal from Winthrop residents and other Harvard students who objected to his work for Weinstein, whose alleged actions helped ignite the #MeToo movement. At organized protests in recent months, students held signs that read,"Down with the Dean," "Remove Sullivan" and "Harvard's Legacy Ignoring Survivors."
Sullivan had defended his work for Weinstein by touting due process for everyone, decrying the country's "long history of mob justice" and arguing that it's even more important that "unpopular, vile, or undesirable" defendants have their rights.
Protesters said they acknowledge the constitutional right for everyone, even unpopular defendants, to have a legal defense. But they questioned Sullivan's ability to simultaneously carry out a house dean position whose duties they said include being a protector of students and ensuring they feel comfortable sharing concerns.
They accused Sullivan of dismissing their concerns.
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Other concerns about Sullivan that apparently predated the Weinstein controversy.
The Harvard Crimson reported this week that more than a dozen Winthrop tutors, students and staff have brought concerns about Sullivan and Robinson to Harvard administrators over the past three years. The complaints have involved questions about their leadership, a "revolving door" of staff administrators at the house, and "threats" to push out residents deemed as disloyal by Sullivan and Robinson.
The trial for Weinstein, whose alleged crimes helped set off the #MeToo movement, is tentatively set to begin in June.
Amid protests earlier this year, Khurana had offered support for Sullivan's legal defense of Weinstein.
"I think a faculty member is given academic freedom to make decisions that are right for them," Khurana said in February. "I also think that every individual is entitled to a vigorous defense. It's a cornerstone of our justice system."
Sullivan also serves as director of the Harvard Criminal Justice Institute. He's no stranger to controversial legal clients, having represented former and now-deceased New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez defeat a double-murder charge.
In another high-profile case, Sullivan represented the family of Michael Brown in reaching a $1.5 million settlement with the city of Ferguson, Missouri, following his shooting death in 2017.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Harvard professor out as dean amid backlash for representing Harvey Weinstein