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Embattled Widener University School of Law professor Lawrence Connell has been cleared of racial and sexual harassment charges by a three-member university panel that reviewed his conduct in response to several student complaints. It was the second time he has beaten such charges following internal investigations. Connell was accused of using violent scenarios involving the murder of Widener Law Dean Linda Ammons, who is black, during his criminal law class. The latest panel, made up of two law professors and a university administrator, spent three days in June reviewing the case against Connell and issued a unanimous, 52-page decision on July 21. According to that document, which has not been released to the public, four charges that Connell committed racial harassment and two charges of sexual harassment could not be proved. He was cleared of one charge of retaliation that stemmed from his attempts to depose the two students who brought complaints against him. However, the panel found that Connell violated the retaliation provision of the university’s code of conduct when he e-mailed his students to explain why he was placed on administrative leave and when his attorney, Thomas Neuberger, went public with the news that Connell was trying to identify his student accusers. “Once again, the faculty of the law school spoke clearly about the tactics of Dean Ammons in her attempt to rid the campus of my conservative voice,” Connell said in a written statement. “This is second time the faculty refused to sign on to her vendetta against me.” A Widener University spokesman did not respond to requests for comment Friday. Connell said he looked forward to returning to campus in the fall. He has been on administrative leave since Dec. 20. Connell, who holds tenure and has taught at Widener since 1984, also has a pending defamation suit in Delaware state court against Ammons and the two former students who made the initial allegations against him. The panel’s finding is the latest development in an unusual dispute pitting Connell against Ammons. The dispute began in early December, when law school administrators informed Connell that several students in his spring 2010 criminal law class had complained that he made offensive statements in reference to women and minorities, including the scenario in which Ammons was murdered. Administrators interviewed students in his fall 2010 class, and some raised similar concerns, according to a letter from Vice Dean Patrick Kelly. Connell was formally charged in late February with making racists and sexist comments and failing to cooperate with Widener’s investigation into his conduct. A law faculty panel recommended in early March that the university not pursue his dismissal. A week later, two of Connell’s former students filed complaints against him under the university’s discrimination and harassment code. That triggered the second investigation. Connell did not attend the university panel trial in June, but submitted a number of affidavits from former students and criminal law professors who said that his classroom methodology is fairly standard. In addition to the university review of his conduct, Connell sued Ammons in April for defamation, alleging that she widely publicized false charges against him in order to paint him as racist and sexist because of his conservative views. He added the two former students who filed complaints against him as defendants on July 5. The suit alleges that Ammons and the two students entered into a conspiracy to sully his name and reputation. Karen Sloan can be contacted at [email protected].

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