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    The Culture of Jumping To Conclusions At Widener Law School

    The Culture of Jumping To Conclusions At Widener Law School

    There is a controversy at Widener Law School regarding calls for the dismissal of a law professor who, in trying to get the students to understand the law, used a hypothetical example in criminal law class in which the professor killed the Dean.

    As argued by law professors Glenn Reynolds, Ann Althouse, and Eugene Volokh, the reaction seems overdone, since no one reasonably could believe that the professor was actually calling for the killing of the Dean, and use of sometimes outrageous hypotheticals is what law professors do in class.

    The issue of race also is involved because the professor is white and the Dean is black, and there were unspecified accusations made anonymously by students that the professor made racist and sexist comments.

    The school said it would permit the professor to stay, but only if he recanted, which he refused to do:

    [Law professor Lawrence] Connell refused, believing it would amount to admitting racism, among other things, [attorney Thomas] Neuberger said. Connell also believes the accusation runs contrary to one of the most significant cases of his legal career. In the 1980s, he appealed the death sentence of James Riley, a black man convicted by an all-white jury of killing a Dover liquor store clerk. Connell helped uncover racial bias in Kent County’s jury-selection process. The appeal led to a retrial in which Riley received a sentence of life in prison rather than the death penalty.

    “It is contrary to every fiber of my being to mistreat any person because of the color of his or her skin,” Connell wrote to Kelly in a Dec. 22 letter, which he also forwarded to the entire faculty. “I devoted 15 years to trying to save the life of a black man. … I spent months in the dusty basement of the Kent County Court House, searching through dozens of boxes of years’ worth of jury qualification forms.”

    There seems to be a problem at Widener.

    Remember, Widener is the law school which hosted the debate between Christine O’Donnell and Chris Coons.  The crowd of law students erupted in mocking laughter and indignation when O’Donnell challenged Yale law graduate Coons to point out where in the Constitution there was a separation of church and state.

    Watch the video below beginning at 1:40:

    But as pointed out here and at Instapundit, O’Donnell was right and the Widener law student crowd was wrong.  The doctrine of “separation of church and state” is a judicially created doctrine.

    Perhaps there is a culture of jumping to conclusions at Widener. 

    My suggestion: Everyone take a deep breath, calm down, think through the problem, and write a 15-page paper on the topic of “legal reasoning in a world of political correctness.”

    Update:  I also should have linked this Ann Althouse critique of the Widener crowd reaction during the debate:

    A word needs to be said about the mocking laughter that instantly erupted from the law students in the audience. Presumably, that sound meant we are smart and you are dumb. Where did they learn to treat a guest at their law school — Widener Law School — with such disrespect? They hooted O’Donnell down, and she never got a chance to explain her point. What does that say about the climate for debate in law schools? Not only did they feel energized to squelch the guest they politically opposed, but they felt sure of their own understanding of the law….

    What is the atmosphere at Widener? Is there no intellectual curiosity? No love of debate? No grasp of how complex constitutional law problems can be?

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    1pro dos1 | February 17, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    @ the bandwagoners who are feigning outrage at the boisterous happy-clappy liberal students at that school: you base your judgment on what you heard, not the silent ones who were just as disappointed as anyone else at their conduct. You base your judgment on those who purposefully went to the debate to see if they could mock and deride one of the conservative candidates, not the student body as a whole.

    The truth is, there are quite a number of conservative, libertarian, and laissez-faire capitalists who are in that student body. It is equally true, as is in all institutions of graduate studies, that there are a quite a number of liberals of varying degrees. (yeah no joke!).

    One need only look at the differences in conduct between the right-of-center and the left-of-center groups across the country to inform one's opinion of what happened. In short, liberals acting like liberals. But to watch a clip and condemn a student body and a school based on the acts of the liberals who were there while disregarding those who remained silent and civil is asinine in my book.

    Unfortunately I cannot locate a video recording of the presentation given by Jeff Benedict and Susette Kelo. The crowd's reaction was very positive and civil. But minds have already been made up, it seems.

    Regarding Connell, I have no doubts that at some point this was going to happen, given that he's one of two outspoken conservative profs on that campus. (there may be others who conceal their beliefs). Eventually, a smug left-winger who believes everything-is-racist and everything-is-sexist was going to take offense to hypotheticals and see it as opportunity to correct historical slights. After all, when speech does not fit the leftist 'narrative', it's likely to be attacked.

    Judging the students for the conduct exhibited by liberals and ignoring the unseen and unheard reaction of others. Judging the school by the conduct of the faculty review board while there is growing anger at how the Dean and the committee are handling this. I'm not here to convince you that this school is a pillar of conservative thought or that the student body will end up at Heritage or Cato…but, I ask, who exactly is jumping to conclusions?

    Re: O'Donnell – I wasn't impressed with her in the slightest. No gravitas. Must have thought she could ride on Palin's coattails (or pantsuit tails…whatever).

    @ DrD: there is no question you could have made that case in the 80's. But now? Nah.

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