I have posted twice this year about the persecution of Prof. Lawrence Connell, a tenured associate professor at Widener University School of Law in Delaware, but let me summarize the story for you, lets you missed the original post.
Connell is a criminal law professor, and is adept at concocting memorable hypotheticals to illustrate principles of law, often using celebrities and other people well-known to the students as characters. In one class, he illustrated the dilemmas in determining the crime of attempted murder with this hypothetical:
“The Dean has threatened to fire me if she comes to school one more time and finds that I have parked in her designated parking space. Upset about the possibility of losing both my job and the parking space, I bring my .357 to school, get out of my car, put the .357 into my waistband, walk to the top floor where her office is located, open the door to her office, see her seated at her desk, draw my weapon, aim my weapon, and fire my weapon directly into what I believe to be her head. To my surprise, it’s not the Dean at all, but an ingeniously painted pumpkin — a pumpkin that has been intricately painted to look like the Dean. Dick Tracy rushes in and immediately wrestles me to the ground. I am charged with the attempted murder of the Dean.”
Good hypothetical. But some of Connell’s students complained that the hypo communicated violent attitudes towards women and blacks, since the Dean, Linda Ammons, is both female and black. She is also, unfortunately for both Connell and the school, incompetent, without humor or perspective, cruel, paranoid, and a fool. Dean Ammons allowed the complaint to go forward, resulting in Connell having to go on administrative leave as he aggressively fought the allegations, both for his own sake and for the sake of academic freedom.
Connell sued, and endured a university disciplinary hearing process which recently cleared him of engaging in racist and sexist conduct. The faculty committee report is nonetheless nauseating and cowardly, replete with words about how professors need to be careful about offending hypersensitive, ignorant, politically biased students with agendas. The committee also found that Connell’s vigorous defense against the unfounded and damaging accusations against him constituted “retaliation” against the students who had complained about him. By initiating legal action and sending an e-mail to the student body denying that he had engaged in racist or sexist conduct, the committee said, Connell violated Widener policy, which has no definition of what constitutes “retaliation.”
Dean Ammons, rather than showing herself to have regained her sanity and common sense by dropping the whole matter and apologizing profusely to Connell, instead browbeat the committee into demanding this of Connell for too-vigorously defending himself against a bogus charge designed to destroy his career and reputation:
1. “Professor Connell will acknowledge, in writing, his violation of the Discrimination and Harassment Code and will agree to comply fully with his contractual obligations and all policies of Widener University and Widener University School of Law in the future. Professor Connell’s acknowledgement shall be placed in his personnel file.”
2. “Professor Connell will undergo a psychological evaluation by a psychiatrist or psychologist of his choice selected from a list of four individuals provided to him by the University. The purpose of this evaluation will be to determine his fitness for his teaching position, particularly in view of his retaliatory response to the student complaints lodged against him…. Professor Connell will comply with all conditions and recommendations issued by the psychiatrist/psychologist, including, without limitation, appropriate counseling and anger management, prior to the lifting of the suspension and his return to teaching duties. Not earlier than sixty (60) days prior to the end of the term of Professor Connell’s one year suspension, his psychiatrist/psychologist must send to the Dean and Vice Dean an evaluation assessing Professor Connell’s fitness to return to duties, completion of courses or training, if applicable, and a follow-up treatment plan. if any.”
3. “Professor Connell must issue a written apology to the students against whom he has been found to have retaliated. The form and content of that apology must be provided to the Dean of the Law School for approval and will be distributed to the affected students by the Dean’s office.“
Yes, that’s right: “You aren’t a racist, but you should be suspended, sent to have your head shrunk and apologize for having the insensitivity to deny it.”
Needless to say, this Orwell/Stalin/ Bizarro World solution is utterly bats, unfair, unjust and worse. Connell isn’t going to do any of it, nor should he. Nonetheless, the harm is done. Prof. Connell is the central figure in an ethics train wreck that is on the way to destroying Widener Law School, but he has absolutely no accountability for it.
- First and foremost, Dean Ammons. Her initial conduct in not dismissing the complaint was incompetent and dumb. Her continuing a vendetta against Connell after he has been cleared shows her to be malicious and deranged as well.
- The complaining students. This is what political correctness will do to the mind: cause its victims to regard open communication and debate as offensive and worthy of censorship and to treat anyone with varying views as an enemy to be destroyed. The students abused the school’s policies. Of course, if they had done this in a law school run by rational adults, little harm would have been done. Unfortunately, Widener is run by Linda Ammons, a race-obsessed bully whose brain has also been liquefied by political correctness.
- The faculty, which hasn’t had the integrity to stand up for one of its own while he is being abused, insulted, and ostracized for nothing more than being a good teacher and not caving to the demands of political correctness thugs.
- Widener’s governing board. They hired an incompetent Dean, and they are standing by as she embarrasses and destroys the law school. Good work!
As Prof. David Bernstein wrote on the Volokh Conspiracy,
“If any of our readers are considering attending Widener, I recommend looking elsewhere–anywhere else. If Connell can be abused in this way, so can you.”
The only way Widener Law School’s reputation can be salvaged, after a highly visible debacle like this has exposed the school’s culture and leadership as having warped ethics, terrible judgment, and a lack of respect for academic freedom and intellectual diversity, is to clear out everyone—the Dean, the faculty, and the leadership.
Except Prof. Connell. He deserves to stay.
But why would he want to?