This Week in FIRE News: Warnings for Prospective Law Students at Widener and for College Parents Nationwide

By August 12, 2011

Last Saturday, Volokh Conspiracy blogger and law professor David Bernstein wrote, "I can’t in good conscience have my reputation associated in any way with Widener Law"—and we don’t blame him.

On Monday we learned that Widener University School of Law Dean Linda L. Ammons recommended that Professor Lawrence Connell be suspended without pay for one year until he undergoes a psychological evaluation and apologizes to two students who accused him of making racist and sexist references in class—even though Professor Connell had already been cleared by a unanimous university hearing panel on the charges of harassment and discrimination more than once. It’s an embarrassing decision on Dean Ammons’ part, and we’re glad that Volokh took notice, as did Peter Schmidt of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Gil Spencer of The Delaware County Daily Times, Ashley Thorne of the National Association of Scholars, and Charlotte Allen of Minding the Campus. Allen writes:

What is appalling is that, despite both exonerations, Ammons appears to have gotten her way in the end after all, exacting sanctions against a tenured professor that are not only costly but humiliating (he is supposed to apologize to the complaining students). The charge of retaliation, based on a vague prohibition in the faculty handbook, seem[s] especially flimsy.

Elsewhere, another professor remains similarly surrounded by turmoil, as The Chronicle posted an article on the denial of emeritus status. The piece included significant attention to FIRE’s case at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where many of Professor Elliot Cramer’s emeritus rights were revoked because of outside complaints about a website link to an organization that advocates for animal welfare.

But as summer winds down and college students prepare for their return to school, we need to remind parents and grandparents (as well as students themselves) that with the growing number of administrators on campus, students‘ rights are also in grave danger. That’s why FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley issued a warning to college parents and grandparents in The Daily Caller yesterday. Robert writes:

If you’re a parent or grandparent with a child heading off to college later this month, beware: College isn’t what it used to be.

Whether your own college experience was more like The Paper Chase or Animal House, you can be sure that today’s campuses are neither. Instead, your tuition and tax dollars are funding an ever-growing army of bureaucrats that police everything from free speech to dating. Administrators now outnumber faculty on our nation’s campuses, and even students’ innermost thoughts are subject to their oversight. Each year, the college experience gets closer to that of a TSA line at the airport – but one that you have to live in for four years.

[...]

You might ask, "Is that so bad? Aren’t these students in the hands of the most intelligent and educated people in our society? Can’t we expect them to administer whatever rules they have fairly?" Quite simply, no, you can’t. Who can forget the Duke lacrosse case, where, early in the process, 88 professors signed a statement, published in the newspaper using university dollars, that presumed the three falsely accused lacrosse players guilty? Not one of them is known to have recanted his or her support for that rush to judgment. Many of them, in fact, have been promoted or gone on to more prestigious jobs. Here’s a question worth asking your loved ones’ college administrators, should you meet them: Would you agree to be tried for a crime using the same rules you provide for your students?

A big thanks to Glenn Reynolds, who picked up the article on his popular blog Instapundit.

We encourage you to check out FIRE’s resources to equip yourself with the information needed to ensure that your child’s or grandchild’s rights are not being violated on campus this fall.

Schools: Widener University School of Law Cases: Widener University: Law School Threatens Professor’s Academic Freedom