Yes, Widener’s Major Supporters Are Leaving Because of Law Dean’s Treatment of Professor

By August 31, 2011

Adam’s recent Torch post asked whether major supporters are indeed leaving Widener University School of Law over the dean’s treatment of law professor Lawrence Connell, after legal blogger William A. Jacobson reported that Capt. (Ret.) Robert P. Taishoff had resigned as chair of the law school’s National Campaign Committee. (Jacobson had seen the text of Taishoff’s resignation communication but did not quote from it.) We now can say that the answer to that question is, unambiguously, yes.

In case you’re just catching wind of this atrocious case, here’s Adam’s summation of it from August 24:

The school began actions to fire Widener professor Lawrence Connell back in December 2010, but failed after two faculty panels cleared him of extremely dubious violations of the school’s harassment code, such as using the term "black folks" in class and using the names of Ammons and other law school colleagues as characters in class hypotheticals. Widener did, however, find Connell guilty of "retaliation" for "emailing his students to explain why Ammons had banned him from the campus," as well as the decision of his attorney, Thomas S. Neuberger, to issue a press release "explaining his efforts to identify Connell’s accusers and to protect his client’s reputation."

Amazingly, even after the charges of harassment and discrimination against Connell were found to be void of substance, Widener University President James T. Harris accepted Ammons’ recommendation that Connell nonetheless be suspended for a year without pay and be forced to undergo a psychological or psychiatric evaluation before being allowed to return. Yes, you read that right, and yes, it’s practically insane.

Now, Taishoff has said "enough is enough." Jeff Mordock of Delaware Law Weekly has much more on this major blow to Widener:

In his resignation letter, submitted earlier this month to Widener Law Dean Linda J. Ammons, Taishoff indicated that he felt the sanctions the school imposed against Connell were excessive, especially after a university panel exonerated the professor of all but one of the charges against him.

"There was not a nexus between the remedy and the findings," said Taishoff in an interview with Delaware Law Weekly. "I’m not sure Dean Ammons’ and President [James T.] Harris’ recommendations matched the findings of the committee. The committee found that he did not commit sexual or racial harassment."

Taishoff later added, "The punishment they doled out did not match the offense he was found to have committed."

[...]

"I was shocked by the accusations, but waited until the report came out to see how the university would handle the situation once a third party looked at it," said Taishoff. "Once the report came out and validated what I knew and felt, I thought the punishment was excessive."

The two men have known each other since Taishoff was a student in one of Connell’s classes in 1989. As a law clinic student, Taishoff worked with Connell on several appellate cases, including helping with multiple death penalty appeals.

[...]

"It was a tough decision to resign because I do care about the law school and want to see it succeed," said Taishoff. "They’ve drawn a line in the sand and it’s an arbitrary line. I don’t think it’s valid."

Taishoff, whose eponymous family foundation has been a major financial supporter of Widener Law, was named the law school’s alumnus of the year in 2009.

While Taishoff makes clear that his family’s foundation will continue to financially support Widener, Mordock writes that Taishoff "has resigned from actively raising funds for the university." If Taishoff’s reasons for stepping down from his leadership role weren’t clear enough, he tells Delaware Law Weekly: "I‘m just not going to work with Dean Ammons. In order to run a successful campaign, you have to work with the dean." (Emphasis added.)

My hope is that President Harris will be hounded by students, faculty, alumni, donors, and anyone else with a stake in the school’s success (and if you’re one of them, please, write to him through our website here) so that he answers for the damage Dean Ammons has done—and for his assent to Professor Connell’s punishment over what are, by all indicators we have seen, frivolous and malicious charges. If Harris needs to find a peaceful, solitary mountain peak from which to contemplate his explanation and apology, by all means, let’s give him the space before it’s too late. Can Harris justify exiling Professor Lawrence Connell while allowing Dean Linda Ammons—who is obviously out of control and damaging the school—to remain on the payroll?

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