Widener University: Law School Threatens Professor’s Academic Freedom

Category: Due Process, Free Speech
Schools: Widener University School of Law

In December 2010, tenured law professor Lawrence J. Connell was banned from campus and charged with numerous violations of the university’s Faculty Member Discrimination and Harassment Code, including using the term “black folks” and using hypothetical classroom scenarios (a common practice in law schools) involving law school dean Linda Ammons. In March 2011, after a faculty panel recommended that dismissal proceedings against Connell be dropped, Ammons allegedly induced two law students to refile harassment charges against Connell, and added a new charge of “retaliation” for defending himself and explaining his situation to his students. A second panel cleared Connell of all charges of harassment and discrimination, but found him responsible for retaliation. Widener President James T. Harris then accepted Ammons’ recommendation that Connell be suspended for one year without pay and be forced to undergo a psychiatric or psychological evaluation before returning to Widener. Connell is currently suing Widener University, Dean Ammons, and the two students allegedly induced to file false charges against him.

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  • Spencer: Widener Law School faces objections

    August 12, 2011

    Larry Connell is a criminal-law professor at Widener Law School. Last year, he was accused by two students of saying things in class that they found to be racist and sexist. The two students went to Dean Linda Ammons and told her that Connell had used her in a hypothetical scenario that included him attempting to murder her for taking away his parking space. (Such “hypos” are commonly used by law profs to spice up lessons and keep students paying attention.) Based on that “evidence,” Ammons suspended Connell, pending the outcome of a hearing to fire him, and had him […]

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  • Faculty committe drops most charges against Widener prof, but the case is far from resolved

    July 29, 2011

    You might remember a story from earlier this year about Widener Law associate professor Lawrence Connell. His attorney, Tom Neuberger,  has issued a press release saying a faculty committee cleared Connell of most of the accusations against him following a three-day trial in June. According to the Widener faculty handbook, Connell’s case will also be reviewed by several levels of Widener’s senior administration as well as another faculty committee before reaching a resolution. In a criminal law class, Connell used violent, edgy hypothetical examples to demonstrate legal theories, including one in which he shot Law School dean Linda Ammons in […]

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  • Widener Settles Lawsuit Filed by Law Professor who was Punished for Protected Speech

    February 8, 2012

    For a year now, FIRE has been reporting on the case of wronged law professor Lawrence Connell, who was the target of a campaign spearheaded by Widener Law Dean Linda Ammons. Ammons sought Connell’s termination and banishment from Widener mainly on the basis of Connell’s use of hypothetical legal scenarios that used Ammons as a character (quite a common practice in law schools). Ammons also allegedly induced two students to file charges against Connell. (The law school even indemnified the students.) Connell was exonerated of the original charges but Widener kept pursuing him, bizarrely finding that Connell’s efforts to defend […]

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  • Hans Bader Deconstructs Widener’s ‘Retaliation’ Argument

    January 4, 2012

    Over at Minding the Campus, Hans Bader exposes the flimsy legal underpinnings of Widener University’s finding this past July that Professor Lawrence Connell was guilty of “retaliation” for defending himself against baseless charges of racial discrimination. We’ve covered Connell’s ordeal extensively here on The Torch, but in case you’ve forgotten the shocking details, here’s Bader’s useful summation of the case: Connell was convicted of “retaliation” because he and his lawyer denounced meritless racial harassment charges against him over his classroom teaching …. Connell, who is white, was charged with racial harassment and removed from Widener’s campus because he discussed hypothetical […]

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  • Yes, Widener’s Major Supporters Are Leaving Because of Law Dean’s Treatment of Professor

    August 31, 2011

    Adam’s recent Torch post asked whether major supporters are indeed leaving Widener University School of Law over the dean’s treatment of law professor Lawrence Connell, after legal blogger William A. Jacobson reported that Capt. (Ret.) Robert P. Taishoff had resigned as chair of the law school’s National Campaign Committee. (Jacobson had seen the text of Taishoff’s resignation communication but did not quote from it.) We now can say that the answer to that question is, unambiguously, yes. In case you’re just catching wind of this atrocious case, here’s Adam’s summation of it from August 24: The school began actions to fire Widener professor Lawrence […]

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  • Are Major Supporters Leaving Widener over Dean’s Treatment of Law Professor?

    August 24, 2011

    Over at Legal Insurrection, Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson has been providing updates on the outcry against Widener University School of Law (Delaware) and its dean, Linda Ammons. The latest news from Jacobson is that a member of the law school’s Board of Overseers has resigned, as has Capt. (Ret.) Robert P. Taishoff, who had been a leading member of the school’s Campaign Subcommittee and the school’s National Advisory Council. Here’s a quick review of the case: The school began actions to fire Widener professor Lawrence Connell back in December 2010, but failed after two faculty panels cleared […]

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  • This Week in FIRE News: Warnings for Prospective Law Students at Widener and for College Parents Nationwide

    August 12, 2011

    Last Saturday, Volokh Conspiracy blogger and law professor David Bernstein wrote, “I can’t in good conscience have my reputation associated in any way with Widener Law”—and we don’t blame him. On Monday we learned that Widener University School of Law Dean Linda L. Ammons recommended that Professor Lawrence Connell be suspended without pay for one year until he undergoes a psychological evaluation and apologizes to two students who accused him of making racist and sexist references in class—even though Professor Connell had already been cleared by a unanimous university hearing panel on the charges of harassment and discrimination more than […]

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  • ‘Chronicle of Higher Education’ on Widener University’s Unwarranted Suspension of Law Professor

    August 9, 2011

    Peter Schmidt of The Chronicle of Higher Education is the latest to bring attention to Widener University’s suspect decision to suspend law professor Lawrence Connell without pay for one year until he undergoes a psychological evaluation and apologizes to two students who accused him of making racist and sexist references in class. As we reported yesterday, this decision comes after Professor Connell had already been cleared by a unanimous university hearing panel on his original charges of harassment and discrimination. If you’re unfamiliar with the case, be sure to read Schmidt’s piece and FIRE’s case materials in full, and join […]

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  • Widener Law School, Dean Ammons Continue to Embarrass Themselves in Professor Connell Case

    August 8, 2011

    In late July, we provided an update to the case of Professor Lawrence Connell at Widener University School of Law in Delaware, reporting that Professor Connell had been cleared by a unanimous university hearing panel on charges of “harassment” and “discrimination.” Connell’s case, which you’ll want to read up on if you’re not familiar with the basic facts, involved his use of the term “black folks” in class as well as his use of law school dean Linda L. Ammons as a character in hypothetical case scenarios in class discussion (a common law school practice). As we reported at the […]

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  • FIRE Cases Figure Strongly in ‘Chronicle of Higher Education’ Article on Retaliation Against Faculty Speech

    August 3, 2011

    The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Peter Schmidt has an excellent article on the hair-trigger sensibilities of the college classroom, in which many professors have found themselves under fire for remarks seen as violent or threatening. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the free speech and academic freedom issues involved, several of the cases Schmidt cites in his piece are cases in which FIRE has been—or is currently—involved. Two of the cases Schmidt devotes significant coverage to in his article are cases with which FIRE has been intimately involved in recent months. The first, involving law professor Lawrence Connell of Widener University, concerns […]

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  • Widener Law Prof Fully Cleared of ‘Harassment’ and ‘Discrimination’ Charges for Using Hypothetical Scenarios

    July 25, 2011

    A unanimous hearing panel at Widener University School of Law in Delaware has fully cleared Professor Lawrence Connell of charges of “harassment” and “discrimination” for his use of the term “black folks” in class and for using law school dean Linda L. Ammons, who is black, as a character in hypothetical scenarios during lectures. A faculty panel had recommended that Widener drop its attempts to dismiss the tenured professor, but administrators reportedly induced students to issue further complaints to keep the prosecution going. Represented by attorney Thomas S. Neuberger, Connell is suing Ammons and Widener for defamation. Connell’s ordeal began […]

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  • Embattled Widener Law Professor Adds Student Defendants in Defamation Lawsuit

    July 5, 2011

    FIRE has been following the story of Widener University School of Law Professor Lawrence Connell, whose law school is attempting to fire him on the basis of extremely outlandish allegations about statements that supposedly violate the school’s harassment code. His alleged offenses include using the term “black folks” in class and using the names of law school dean Linda L. Ammons and other law school colleagues as characters in hypothetical case scenarios for his criminal law class (a common practice in law school, as we’ve discussed). Although a faculty committee recommended the charges against him be dismissed, Dean Ammons and the Widener administration refiled […]

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  • Widener Law Professor, Targeted For Firing, Sues Dean for Defamation

    April 8, 2011

    Late last month FIRE took public the story of Widener Law School Professor Lawrence Connell, whose law school is attempting to fire him for extremely dubious violations of the school’s harassment code. His alleged offenses include using the term “black folks” in class and using the names of law school dean Linda L. Ammons and other law school colleagues as characters in hypothetical examples for his criminal law class (a common practice, as we’ve discussed). Although a faculty committee recommended the charges against him be dismissed, Dean Ammons and the Widener administration have refiled charges against him using another, more secretive, process. With his […]

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  • Widener Law School Attempting to Fire Professor for Classroom Speech

    March 24, 2011

    Yesterday’s press release tells the story of Widener University School of Law Professor Lawrence Connell, who is facing an unjustifiable harassment investigation for reasons unknown. Actually, Widener has provided the “reasons”—you can read them here—but this is one of those situations in which you know something is wrong about the accusations just by reading the accusations themselves. Let’s take a few of them now: The use of the term “black folk/s” is necessarily racist: The term “black folks” is cited three times in law school Dean Linda Ammons’ letter explaining why she believes a tenured law professor should be fired […]

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  • Widener Law School Attempting to Fire Professor for Classroom Speech

    March 23, 2011

    WILMINGTON, Del., Mar. 23, 2011—Widener University School of Law is attempting to fire longtime criminal law professor Lawrence Connell by charging him with dubious violations of the school’s harassment code, such as using the term “black folks” in class and using the names of law school Dean Linda L. Ammons and other law school colleagues as characters in class hypotheticals. Although a faculty panel has already recommended that Widener drop its “dismissal for cause” proceedings against Connell, administrators have reportedly induced students to issue further complaints under a new process that forces Connell to keep the details of the proceedings […]

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  • Law Prof Suspended for Fake Classroom Examples Is Cleared by Committee

    March 9, 2011

    I reported last month that a law professor at Widener University in Delaware had been put on administrative leave and was barred from campus, 26 years into his teaching career at Widener, because of fake examples he used in his classes on criminal procedure. He even was facing dismissal. Now a campus committee has recommended that the charges be dropped. “Instead of saying Plaintiff A or Defendant B, teachers use names that will grab the attention of students, wake them up from their distractions and make things memorable,” his attorney, Thomas S. Neuberger, told the Philadelphia Inquirer last month. According […]

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  • Law Professor Could Lose Job over Fake Classroom Examples

    February 16, 2011

    At Widener University in Delaware, a law professor commonly used examples involving murder scenarios in his classes on criminal procedure. To make the examples memorable, he used recognizable names—his own and his dean’s. “Instead of saying Plaintiff A or Defendant B, teachers use names that will grab the attention of students, wake them up from their distractions and make things memorable,” his attorney, Thomas S. Neuberger, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. The professor, Lawrence J. Connell, reportedly is a tenured faculty member who has been teaching at Widener for 26 years. According to Neuberger, Connell reportedly was pressured to admit that […]

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