An associate professor at Widener University School of Law is under investigation by school administrators for using “violent scenarios” in his criminal law course that involved him murdering Dean Linda Ammons.
Lawrence Connell has been on administrative leave from the school since Dec. 20 of last year after he declined to discuss the allegations against him with administrators.
Connell’s attorney, Thomas Neuberger, said the law school is violating his academic freedom and that Ammons is using the situation to push Connell out because of his conservative views.
However, in a letter to Connell, school administrators said the professor has a pattern of racist and sexists comments in the classroom, as well as hypothetical situations that threaten fellow professors and students. If true, the allegations made against Connell by several students may violate the school’s discrimination and harassment code, it said.
Widener University spokesman Dan Hanson declined to comment on the matter, saying that the school does not discuss personnel matters. However, Hanson said Widener is committed to academic freedom.
According to correspondence released by Neuberger, Connell was informed on Dec. 10 that some students in his spring 2010 criminal law class had complained to administrators about offensive statements concerning women and minorities — including the murder of Ammons, a black woman. Vice Dean Patrick Kelly told Connell that he then interviewed students in his fall course. Those students “raised similar concerns without the violent scenarios of last spring.” The letter also says that several students made similar complaints against Connell in 1996.
Connell responded by hiring Neuberger and asking for a public hearing in the matter, calling the allegations against him “biased, baseless and unfair.” Connell declined to participate in informal discussions with administrators on the matter.
Ammons must now formally charge Connell, at which point three tenured faculty members would conduct a preliminary review of the matter, Neuberger said. They could either dismiss the case or send the matter to be heard before the entire tenured faculty.
Neuberger said Connell will await the results of the internal review before pursing legal action against the school. “They violated his contract rights,” he said.
In a Dec. 22 letter to Kelly, Connell said he has tried to treat students with respect and dignity.
“As a teacher, I have employed hypothetical problems involving familiar people in absurd situations, to enable students to remember the legal principles involved,” Connell wrote. “It sickens me to think that after my nearly 26 years at Widener, university administrators are suddenly able to divine from the baseless claims of a couple disgruntled students that I am a bigoted racist with violent propensities.”
Karen Sloan can be contacted at email@example.com.