Tuesday, May 14, 2019

EPIC Events on June 5

I have the honor to serve on the board of directors of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, aka EPIC. Based in Washington, DC, EPIC is the nation's leading privacy organization. It is a nonprofit and does lots of good work with a very small staff. I am most familiar with their litigation efforts. For example, it was EPIC that prevented the "Voter Fraud Commission" from inducing states to upload their voter lists; that court victory pretty much was the end of the Commission. EPIC is active right now on the Census citizenship question issue (the Census Bureau did not do the legally required privacy impact assessment). EPIC has just published a version of the Mueller Report it obtained under FOIA, with all the redactions marked with their justifications. Not only that, this version of the report is in a large format, so the type is readable!

June 5 is EPIC day in DC. Two important events are open to the public. From 1-3pm at the National Press Club, I will be moderating a panel discussion on "AI and Human Rights" with a distinguished group of panelists (free, but register at that link). And that evening at the same location will be the EPIC Champions of Freedom Awards dinner (there are several sponsorship levels for this event).

Hope to see you in DC. Or you can just donate to EPIC--it is a very worthy cause, and heaven knows privacy needs defending!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The political execution of Dean Sullivan

Professor Ron Sullivan and his wife are out as faculty deans of Winthrop House, following the pattern of the Christakises at Yale. (I thought this might happen.) Sullivan, like Erika Christakis, was convicted of a political crime, and then publicly guillotined. The graceless announcement came yesterday in a letter that cynically invokes the notion of “dignity.” 

I know the counternarrative. The Crimson reported that there were problems with Sullivan long before l’affaire Weinstein. And so there may have been. But Harvard intentionally made Sullivan’s defense of Weinstein the tipping point of the decision to let him go. In the aftermath of Domínguez, the University decided that it couldn’t let the opportunity pass to make a very public #MeToo statement—even though it cut against the core principles of legal defense and the concept of separating professional activity from personal identity.

To explain, I need to refer back to a couple of old documents.

A recent "announcement" for Faculty Dean positions (included below) states, “Faculty Deans are appointed for a term of 5 years, beginning July 1st of the year following their appointment. These appointments are renewable for one additional 5-year term contingent upon a successful House review and approval from the Dean of Harvard College.” So the first question is why the decision to end Sullivan's tenure as faculty dean was not made simply on the basis that his ten years were up, given that the "position announcement" strongly suggests that these positions are limited to ten years. If the ten-year limitation is widely ignored, Harvard may have felt it needed a stronger rationale to remove him. So let’s assume that continuation beyond ten years is now routine. Still, it is clear from the announcement of Sullivan’s departure that he is not actually being removed; his term is up and he is not being reappointed. Under what conditions are faculty deans not reappointed?

Note in the “position announcement” the reference to “a successful House review.” That is to say, a normal review happens every five years, intended not just to review the performance of the faculty dean but to uncover other areas of concern and opportunities for improvement in the House. I don’t know what these “House reviews” consist of today; I include below a document showing what they looked like twenty years ago. A small committee talked to lots of people and reported back to the dean. The details don’t matter. The point is that there was—and according to the current “position announcement,” still is—a routine way to take the temperature of the House. Depending on the outcome of that review, the dean of the College would have the opportunity to sit down with the faculty deans and tell them, “Here is what the review turned up. I think you will agree that it makes more sense for you to announce your decision to move on to the next phase of your lives than for me to explain to the community what we have learned about your performance.” One of the reasons for term limits and reappointment reviews is to provide for the graceful and dignified handling of forced exits of people who will long remain in the community.

So why was there an out-of-the-ordinary, Orwellian “climate review” of Sullivan in Winthrop House? There should have been an ordinary quinquennial House review. That review would have uncovered whatever problems the climate review brought to light.

I can see only two possible answers. One is that those quinquennial reviews don’t actually happen, in spite of the "position announcement" stating that they do. In that case the dean of the College would simply reappoint whomever he wishes, independent of any pretense of informed evaluation. The very decision to conduct a “climate review” would then be political. Or else the normal review process took place and the “climate review” was added only in order to conduct a political trial of Sullivan’s decision to defend Weinstein.

It seems odd to characterize either possibility as "political," since Sullivan’s personal politics have not even come to light, and he seems to have defended a great many clients with whom the left would sympathize. By “political,” I mean the term in its latter-day, Domínguez-colored, #MeToo sense.

Consider an alternative political scenario, in which Sullivan defended a physician on trial for murder after performing an abortion. Committed students from Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi, and Kentucky, spurred to action by recent decisions of their state legislatures and governors, protest that they don’t want to be handed their diplomas by someone who defends infanticide. Or suppose that some other faculty dean had an abortion herself, and angry students spray-painted the word “MURDERER” on her door. 

Would Harvard conduct an extraordinary climate review under those circumstances and then announce that, coming on top of other performance problems, the climate created by the decision to defend an abortionist or to have an abortion was the straw that broke the camel’s back?

I doubt it. Instead we would have much rhetoric about learning to live in a diverse community with people who have different values, cultures, and ideals than our own. That no climate review would occur under those scenarios makes the decision to terminate Sullivan a statement of Harvard’s political preferences.

And since Sullivan was let go in part for political reasons, forgive my skepticism about the entire counter narrative – that is, whether the other alleged deficiencies in his leadership were major considerations in the decision not to keep him on. Certainly the students who were most vocal about Sullivan's defense of Weinstein are accepting the outcome as a victory for the #MeToo movement.

I hope Professor Sullivan does as well in his new life as Professor Nick Christakis has in his. And I hope Harvard can at some point think about what lessons such decisions are teaching its students (see Harvard's educational role and A teachable moment).

Friday, May 10, 2019

Harvard succeeds in crushing the women's clubs

I long ago told the Faculty that the social club sanctions would hurt women more than men. At the year's final meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on May 7, I asked Dean Khurana the following question about that:
Dean Khurana, my question concerns the policy you announced 3 years ago in order to push certain off-campus social clubs to go co-ed, a policy that this Faculty discussed at some length. You were quoted in the Crimson on February 22 to the effect that you were pleased with the success of the policy. The Crimson also reported, however, that while the policy has wiped out almost all the women’s clubs, it has had only a small impact on the men’s clubs. So that the faculty may know the facts of the matter without relying on the Crimson, can you tell us as of today, how many of the men’s clubs have gone co-ed (perhaps under a new name), how many went out of business, and how many remain all-male; and similarly for the women’s clubs, how many went co-ed, how many went out of business, and how many remain all-female? 

Harvard Magazine explains the question and reports Dean Khurana's reply.
The point of his question was that the policy has made it difficult for women to maintain their recently established social organizations, while the long-established male final clubs (including those with private facilities in Harvard Square, and in some cases significant endowment resources built up over many decades), have been relatively less affected to date—an outcome perhaps different from the one Khurana sought, or that faculty members who voted for the policy in late 2017 intended. Khurana pointed to data available from the dean of students office. Among 13 social organizations now qualifying as gender-neutral (and therefore recognized, so that membership does not expose a student to the sanctions), he said, four were former fraternities; eight were former sororities; and one was a final club. Seven final clubs or similar male fraternal organizations had not become gender-neutral, and therefore remain unrecognized social organizations, whose members are subject to the new policy’s sanctions.
A knowledgeable undergraduate helped me parse the accuracy of this answer.
  • The statement that "eight were former sororities" can't be right, since there have never been more than four sororities at Harvard.
  • The statement that "one was a final club" seems to refer to the Spee. But some women's final clubs went co-ed, so it seems that when Khurana refers to "final clubs" he is referring only to the male final clubs. Perhaps he is equating the formerly women's final clubs with sororities, even though they do not have national parent organizations. But the numbers still don't seem to add up.
  • And it is hard to reconcile the statement that "Seven final clubs or similar male fraternal organizations ha[ve] not become gender-neutral" with the facts that six male final clubs remain all-male (AD, PC, Fly, PSK, Owl, and Fox, none of which is applying for recognition) and two fraternities (SX and SAE) remain all male and have sued Harvard. (The Fox at one point promised to go co-ed and then reversed course. The Delphic, a men's final club, and the Bee, a women's final club, seem to have effectively merged to form a recognized co-ed club.)

Bottom line: there seem to be eight all-male clubs left and zero all-female clubs, while there used to be thirteen all-male clubs and ten all-female clubs. And at gender-neutral Harvard, this counts as success.

Added May 11: One of the sororities that shut down seems to have technically re-opened, with almost no members, mainly to join the fraternities in their lawsuit against the University. Last spring a new female final club was reported to have been formed, but I can't find any recent information about its status.