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.
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.