I previously posted about the lawsuit by Widener Law School Professor Lawrence Connell.  Widener is seeking to terminate Connell after Connell used a hypothetical example in his criminal law class of the Widener Dean being attacked, and a small number of students alleged that Connell made racist and/or sexist statements in class.  A Widener faculty committee has recommended that the charges be dropped, but Widener is pursuing termination proceedings.

Conell has filed suit, but there also is an administrative hearing at Widener on June 6.  Connell will not be attending the hearing because of a death in the immediate family, but has submitted affidavits by a variety of people, including two students.  Numerous students also previously sent e-mails of support.

In the affidavits of Danielle Oppenheim and Samuel Elbardissi, the students take issue and put in context the supposedly racist and/or sexist statements made by Connell.  You can read the affidavits, but the short version is that the complaining students have taken comments out of context, failing to distinguish Connell’s explanation of case background (in which racism was a factor) from Connell’s personal opinion. 

So when Connell discussed in class how Bernie Goetz’s subjective perception of blacks being responsible for crime contributed to Goetz’s defense, the students took this as an affirmative statement by Connell that blacks were responsible for crime.  (Oppenheim Aff’t at pars. 23-25, Elbardissi Aff’t at par. 10)

Equally troubling is that two complaining students repeatedly created confrontations with Connell in class over such misperceptions of racism.  As explained by Elbardissi:

33. Two incidents occurred in the class that required the other students to take notice.

34. The first student, who sat middle of the class in the second row, raised her hand as we had just finished a case. The issue was, as I recall, referencing another note in the casebook that dealt with racial profiling and the latitude that officers have in making their determinations whether to stop or not.

35. Professor Connell had gone over the note and discussed the statistics that pointed to blacks being heavily targeted by police. The student raised her hand. When called upon, the student started her response, in an aggressive tone, with the words “I don’t know what you agenda is … ” Her comments lasted about 45 second to a minute, to which Professor Connell replied, “If you can tell me what I have said that makes you think I have an agenda, I will gladly respond to your question.” The student continued with her tone and Professor Connell said that we were going to move on.

36. I have been with this student in other classes and her approach, at times, is to take personal the topics at hand. When such a situation arises, her tone and aggressiveness to attack the situation that is very personal to her is similar to what occurred on that day.

37. On a separate day, Professor Connell had opened the floor for a question he had posed. A student, sitting two to three rows behind me, was called on to answer the question. The student asked a question and Professor Connell asked her to answer his.  Her response to this request was “You never answer mine. Why should I answer yours?”‘ The situation was awkward for the class who had seen tension from these two students build over the semester. Professor Connell did not continue the tirade, but simply stated “That when you answer my question first, I will answer yours.” and then moved on to another student on the opposite side of the room.

38 . I am currently in class with this student. Unfortunately, her comments in response to the professor’s question or the general topic at hand, tends to start with “1 believe” or ” I think.” and never addresses the question posed or the topic at hand . I have no issue with this person, but the consistency that a [sic] the train of subtantive learning gets derailed when she participates is too consistent to not notice.

The charges against Connell have a similar feel to a Media Matters or Think Progress story, in which sentences or clauses from sentences are presented without any context or out of context and spun into a tale of supposed racism by people with an agenda.

Widener Law School should not be proud that it has brought the worst aspects of the blogosphere into its classrooms.

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