Are Major Supporters Leaving Widener over Dean’s Treatment of Law Professor?

August 24, 2011

Over at Legal Insurrection, Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson has been providing updates on the outcry against Widener University School of Law (Delaware) and its dean, Linda Ammons. The latest news from Jacobson is that a member of the law school’s Board of Overseers has resigned, as has Capt. (Ret.) Robert P. Taishoff, who had been a leading member of the school’s Campaign Subcommittee and the school’s National Advisory Council.

Here’s a quick review of the case: 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."

As a result, Ammons amazingly (and successfully) recommended that Professor Connell be suspended without pay for one year, that his ban from campus extend "at least through the graduation of one of the complaining students in 2012," and that he undergo a mandatory psychiatric or psychological examination and possible counseling. Connell is suing Ammons, the school, and the two law students who seem to have been put up to pursuing the complaints.

We don’t have details about the Board of Overseers member’s resignation, but Jacobson has posted information this morning about Taishoff’s resignation:

Widener still declines to identify the reasons given by Taishoff for resigning, but I have seen what is represented to be the text of his resignation communication and it is clear that the resignation was in protest of Dean Linda Ammons’ handling of the Connell case and the sanctions imposed on Connell.

Widener has a very long way to go to restore its reputation. As Azhar wrote on August 8, Widener’s latest reputation problems are nationwide, and this bears repeating:

I wish to note Volokh Conspiracy blogger and respected law professor David Bernstein’s admonishment of Widener. […] "if any of our readers are considering attending Widener, I recommend looking elsewhere-anywhere else. If Connell can be abused in this way, so can you." And that’s not all:

UPDATE: I had agreed to participate in a Widener-sponsored project after the committee report was released, which I thought would be the end of the matter. I’ve now sent an email to my contact at Widener, withdrawing. I can’t in good conscience have my reputation associated in any way with Widener Law School.

Also, last Friday, Jacobson reported on Delaware Law Weekly‘s article on the case. The article states that several other law professors nationwide have publicly criticized Widener’s actions.

My view is that Widener had better get itself out of this mess ASAP while it is in the middle of a capital campaign and is bleeding from within. Dean Ammons is proving to be a huge liability to Widener over her treatment of Connell, and not just because of the lawsuit.

Schools:  Widener University School of Law

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