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    Widener Law School goes Soviet, demands law professor undergo psychiatric evaluation

    Widener Law School goes Soviet, demands law professor undergo psychiatric evaluation

    Lawrence Connell is a tenured law professor at Widener Law School in Delaware.  I have noted in prior posts that Connell was accused of a wide range of racist and sexist conduct directed at students in his classes and at Dean Linda Ammons (because of hypothetical examples Connell used in class).

    Connell has sued, and also went through a university disciplinary hearing process.  The faculty committee which heard the evidence found that Connell did not violate any university policy with regard to the allegations of racist and sexist conduct.  The committee report, available exclusively here, while it ultimately vindicates Connell, is a depressing narrative of the sorry state of political correctness and race/sex politics on campus, in which the feelings and reaction of accusers carry as much weight as the objective reality of the statements made.  While Connell was vindicated on a wide range of charges, this case surely will have a chilling effect on academic freedom on campuses as professors now know that regardless of the context, they are at risk of the subjective feelings of those with an agenda.

    But on one charge Connell was found to have violated university policy.  The Committee found that Connell’s reaction to the false accusations against him, in which he sought to vigorously defend both his job and his reputation, constituted “retaliation.”  Here’s how the retaliation charge was framed (at page 41 of the Report):

    The complainants have made several retaliation claims. In brief, they allege that Professor Connell has retaliated by (1) publishing information to other students detailing what   transpired with his employment status, and describing what  he  termed, “preposterous accusations”; (2) threatening the students with lawsuits in the press and other external data outlets; and (3) serving subpoenas upon them at the beginning of their final exam period.

    Items (2) and (3) were undertaken by Connell’s counsel, not Connell himself.  So the only “retaliation” charged against Connell was sending an e-mail to students explaining what was happening and asserting that the accusations against him were untrue.

    Since the university code did not define “retaliation,” the committee looked to definitions of retaliation in discrimination laws, and ultimately found that Connell’s actions constituted retaliation because other students were able to figure out who the complaining students were (Report p. 43):

    The Committee finds Professor Connell’s e-mail message to the student body to constitute retaliation under the Code. Professor Connell could have explained his situation to his students without using language that would have the foreseeable effect of identifying the complainants. (Report p. 44)

    The Committee found that “threats” by Connell’s attorney to sue the complaining students (who have in fact been sued now) constituted retaliation, but that the service of subpoenas did not.  (Report p. 45).

    So the only conduct of Connell himself which the committee found violated university policy were emails he sent to the student population defending himself against false accusations of racism and sexism.

    In a rational world, the university would seek no or minimal sanctions against Connell since he was completely vindicated of the underlying charges, so that his defense of himself in emails to students  ultimately was proven to be valid.  But Dean Ammons recommended that the university suspend Connell for a year without pay, which the university accepted.

    But Dean Ammons recommendation, accepted by the university, went much further, demanding that Connell submit to a psychiatric evaluation, undergo “anger management” counseling, and issue an apology:

    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. The psychiatrist/psychologist will be advised of the reasons why the evaluation is to be conducted. Once the psychiatrist/psychologist is selected by Professor Connell, Professor Connell will instruct that individual to contact Vice Dean Kelly directly so that he/she may be advised of the reasons for the conduct of the evaluation. 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.

    These conditions are as outrageous as Widener Law School’s underlying conduct in refusing to stand up to false accusations of racism and sexism made against Connell. There was no retaliation or “anger” expressed by Connell except the vigrous defense of what were proven to be false accusations.

    Widener’s requirement of a psychiatric evaluation under these circumstances clearly is intended to further damage Connell even though the committee found no conduct which reflected any alleged psychiatric or anger management issues. Connell simply defended himself.

    Widener Law School Dean Linda Ammons has done further damage to her law school and her own reputation by using psychiatry as a vindictive tool against a law professor whose worst crime was defending himself against false accusations of racism and sexism.

    In Re Connell – August 1, 2011 of Linda L. Ammons


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    Commenter10 | August 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    Here’s an interesting little example of Connell’s teaching method. The student was obviously concerned because she was simply a member of the “PC police”:

    From the Report:

    “The Formal Complaint reads in pertinent part (FC3):One day, during class, students were giving their opinions about a legal matter.Every student who commented agreed with Professor Connell’s opinion on the matter.Eventually, Jennifer raised her hand and respectfully disagreed with Professor Connell’sopinion. Right after Jennifer disagreed with him, Professor Connell developed ahypothetical where Professor Connell decided to shoot Jennifer (of all people). Hewalked in front of Jennifer’s seat, pointed his hands (in the shape of a gun) at her face,and screamed “Die Bitch!” One could here [sic] students in the class gasping at what hehad just done. At the end of class, people came up to Jennifer and shared that the thought it was inappropriate. This kind of cursing and intimidation was a regular occurrence in the classroom, especially the terms “fuck” and “bitch” and “shit.””

      Nemo's omen in reply to Commenter10. | August 6, 2011 at 7:00 pm

      I’ve never understood how the usual suspect screamers about freedom of speech and academia square their “Dissent is patriotic” and “Speaking truth to the Man” gone to hyperbolic extremes with “You’ve hurt my feelings and will pay for it.”

      Hunch is, their idea of free speech isn’t so much content-neutral as it is a staked claim to cosmic truth as homage to Beautiful Liberal People and their Oppressed (because they’re told they are) Minion Masses Supporters.

      Crawford in reply to Commenter10. | August 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm

      One of my favorite memories of college is of the professor running the engineering lab’s hardware “cage” walking into our lab and saying, “One thing — have a complete list of what you need before you come up to the cage! None of this piece-by-piece shit!”

      The other words featured prominently in the “music” listened to by many on campus.

      None of us felt our widdle psyches were harmed, but, then, I didn’t know any law students. Perhaps they’re more fragile?

    So let’s see if I get this straight — this so-called educational institution has determined that the man needs a psych exam because he reacted negatively to a false accusation, publicly defended himself, and through his legal counsel asserted his right under the US Constitution to engage in litigation to clear his name. Frankly, most normal folks would argue that he needed a psych exam if he did not follow that course of action.

    And isn’t it odd that a school devoted to training students for careers in the field of litigation would argue that those who avail themselves of the services of those in that field are to be presumed to be mentally unbalanced until they prove themselves sane?

    caseym54 | August 6, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    I think that the faculty should use this as an opportunity to whittle back the administration potatoheads. They sould announce that they will not be teaching classes in the upcoming year until the Dean resigns or is fired. Of course, they could fire the faculty members who signed on, but finding good replacements (especially now) will be much harder than replacing one bad Dean.

    Milwaukee | August 6, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Well, ok, executing incompetents really is over the top. The problem though, is we have an education and accreditation system which refuses to change in a meaningful way. We do need a system to educate, and to certify competence and the system we have is inefficient, ineffective and unfair.

    Culture eats change for lunch. Our culture of accreditation needs reforming, whether it be in law schools and the practice of law or schools of education and teaching on the K-12 levels. The systems in place are incapable of changing themselves.

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