WIDENER UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW
Law school is not known for being fun, so some professors spice instruction with far-fetched hypotheticals. To some students at Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware, one longtime criminal-law prof's hypos went too far.
Professor Lawrence Connell's ordeal began in December 2010, when he was accused of violating Widener's faculty discrimination and harassment code. Students apparently complained about classroom hypotheticals of violent crimes, in which Connell used law-school faculty and staff, including Dean Linda L. Ammons. It was further alleged that Connell used racist and sexist language, including the shockingly racist phrase "black folks."
Fortunately, a faculty panel saw through the flimsy case and, in March, recommended that the school drop dismissal proceedings. That's where it should have ended. Instead, three days later, Ammons bizarrely prompted two students to refile harassment charges, according to the professor's attorney. Connell's fate, wrested from the faculty, was thus transferred to an administrative panel.
One panel member, Vice-Dean Patrick Kelly, had interviewed Connell's students as part of the investigation. One student, according to her sworn affidavit, told Kelly that Connell's teaching style was "extremely useful" and that some of the allegations against him appeared to be "completely fabricated." But nowhere among the complaints and negative student evaluations was this sympathetic student's interview. It was, in the parlance of criminal procedure, suppressed. Were a prosecutor to withhold this kind of information, it would arguably be deemed obstruction of justice.
Connell, for his part, is not taking this quietly, filing in April a defamation suit against Ammons for labeling him a racist, sexist, and "a threat to the physical safety" of campus members. Whether "obstruction" charges are added remains to be seen.
For subjecting a professor to possible dismissal for harmless and common classroom hypotheticals, and for suppressing student interviews favorable to his cause, Widener School of Law is awarded the highly uncoveted Double Muzzle.