Spencer: Widener Law School faces objections
August 12, 2011
by Gil Spencer
The Delaware County Daily Times
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 banned from campus as a potential threat to her safety and the overall safety of the campus.
When Connell found out why he was being suspended and the basis of the allegations against him, he hired a lawyer and went public.
He called a press conference and said Ammons was trying to get rid of him, not because the allegations against him were true, but because she didn’t like his conservative legal and political views.
He said the charges against him are false and Ammons knows they are false.
And so he is suing her for defamation.
In the meantime, a faculty panel was convened to investigate the charges and found them to be meritless.
Dozens of Connell’s other students have come to his defense to deny he ever said anything that could be construed by any reasonable person to be sexist or racist.
Despite the findings of the faculty committee, Ammons is pursuing a charge of “retaliation” against Connell for defending himself against the students’ false claims.
She is now demanding Connell apologize to his discredited accusers and to undergo a psychiatric evaluation for his alleged “anger” issues. Until then, his suspension will be indefinite.
The case has garnered national attention, especially among those in the legal world. I, too, have read much about it.
I read Connell’s 39-page reply to the charges brought against him and the 14-page defamation suit filed by his lawyer against Ammons.
I read affidavits written by students who support him and have questioned the judgment and honesty of his two accusers.
I read the faculty committee report that exonerated Connell of the most serious charges and I read Ammons’ letters to various newspapers defending “the process” she is using to punish Connell for not going quietly into that good night.
I also watched the video of Connell and his wife at a press conference, emotionally denying the charges against him and his reasons for bringing his defamation suit. (One of them is to protect his medical insurance coverage for his institutionalized daughter.)
And I challenge anyone — liberal or conservative, male or female, black or white — to read what I have read and not conclude that Connell is the victim of a dishonest and vicious campaign to get rid of him.
This is a man who used his own legal expertise to successfully save the life of a black man on death row. And he did it by challenging a white prosecutor who refused to allow any black people on the jury that sentenced the man to death.
Whatever arrogance led Dean Ammons to think she could get away with this, it remains undiminished.
She has cowed the school’s president, James Harris, to go along with her slimy effort, further damaging the reputation of the school.
Groups interested in academic freedom, from the National Association of Scholars to the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education, are lambasting Widener for its failure to live up to common standards of fairness and professional decency.
In his lawsuit, Connell states that Ammons is a “proud,” “thin-skinned,” “African-American female” of a “liberal political and legal persuasion.”
But there is nothing “liberal” about her actions in this case. Her actions can be better described as nasty, reckless and authoritarian.
Having followed this fiasco and written about it on the influential blog site The Volokh Conspiracy, law professor David Bernstein has decided to drop out of a Widener-sponsored event in which he had agreed to participate.
“I can’t in good conscience,” he wrote, “have my reputation associated in any way with Widener Law School.”
He isn’t alone.
And the more professors, lawyers, and students who learn the details of this case, the more there should be who feel exactly the same way.