The Persecution of a Professor

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Editorial note: This article from TheFire.org is reprinted below because it serves as a powerful commentary on the reactionaries who run our universities.

A unanimous hearing panel at Widener University School of Law in Delaware has fully cleared Professor Lawrence Connell of charges of “harassment” and “discrimination” for his use of the term “black folks” in class and for using law school dean Linda L. Ammons, who is black, as a character in hypothetical scenarios during lectures. A faculty panel had recommended that Widener drop its attempts to dismiss the tenured professor, but administrators reportedly induced students to issue further complaints to keep the prosecution going. Represented by attorney Thomas S. Neuberger, Connell is suing Ammons and Widener for defamation.

Connell’s ordeal began on December 10, 2010, when Vice Dean J. Patrick Kelly presented him with a binder full of charges alleging violations of Widener’s Faculty Member Discrimination and Harassment Code. Widener charged Connell with a long list of supposed violations, many of which were redundant. One of the most frivolous charges was that he was wrong to use the term “black folks” to describe African-Americans, which Widener apparently saw as necessarily racist despite the fact that the term is widely used by people including President Barack Obama. Other allegations involved Connell’s use of hypothetical examples of violent crimes in his criminal law courses that involved law school faculty and staff, including Ammons—even though such hypotheticals are a longstanding tradition in law schools across the country. Other charges were taken out of context, while still others, such as an alleged statement that “all criminals are poor and all poor are black folk” are statements Professor Connell unequivocally denies ever making.

According to Connell, Kelly informed him on December 20, 2010, that Ammons had placed Connell on administrative leave. On February 24, 2011, Ammons wrote a letter recommending that Connell be dismissed from the university. Connell addressed the charges in a 39-page affidavit on March 8, 2011. In the affidavit, Connell details his presentations of a number of legal cases both in and out of class, and explains how his presentations were misrepresented by a small number of complaining students. He also denies calling a female police officer “honey,” notes that there is nothing discriminatory or harassing about using the term “black folks,” and notes that it is impossible to defend against such vague and ambiguous allegations as that a professor made “racist and sexist comments” in class. Connell also denies making any racist or sexist comments in any classroom.

Although Widener is a private university, it has publicly committed itself to protecting academic freedom and freedom of expression on its website and in official documents. Tellingly, on March 7, the Informal Committee of Inquiry handling Connell’s case at Widener recommended that the dismissal proceedings be dropped.

Yet Connell’s ordeal did not end there. According to Neuberger, on March 10, Ammons had two law students “refile their prior false charges.” FIRE cannot independently investigate the students’ side of the story because Connell is prohibited from releasing all of the details out of fear of punishment for retaliation. Widener’s Faculty Member Discrimination and Harassment Code provides that “[d]issemination of information relating to the case should be limited in order that the privacy of all individuals involved is safeguarded as fully as possible [...] to protect the Complainant from retaliatory action by those named in the Complaint.” Retaliation can be punished with dismissal from the university.

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  • Tziona

    Sounds like a person vendetta.

  • sedoanman

    Typical Nazi show trial.

  • paddydonovan

    Please jeep us updated on this. As a teacher, this is an educator's nightmare

  • Questions

    You can be sure that the administrators were themselves black, not just the "offended" students.

    Those who denounce "liberals" in cases like these miss the main point. White liberals are merely enablers; it is blacks who are the real villains– victimizers, not victims.

  • StephenD

    You've got to be careful with that broad brush you're using there Questions, but more to the point, who benefits from such a case? Is it someone in the Administration that merely doesn't like him; A fellow Professor that wants his job with friends in high places? On its face, everyone knows this is bogus. So what's the real deal here? This makes the school look terrible.

  • http://BizinaSavaneli Bizina Savaneli

    Please, take into consideration that since 1998 I am persecuted professor. In period of President Shevardnadze’s ruling I sharply criticized the state of Anarchy in the country. In period of President Saakashvili’s ruling I sharply criticized the state of “Monarchy” in the country. (From Anarchy to Monarchy!). . . More over, on October 10, 2008 as an expert on International Law of Human Rights I have gave an interview to TV “Caucasus’s” chief-narrator – Mr. David Aqubardia, in which, by the way, had argued that President Saakashvili) launched the war and the attacks by the armed forces the Georgian city Tskhinvali and other the villages of Georgia by means of heavy weapons, which was qualified as a Crime against Humanity and War Crime against own citizens and peacekeeping forces. After that, since September 1, 2009, I was deprived of my right to educate students in the universities. At that time my monthly income is $120. 00… The Minister of Education and Science of Georgia as well as other Ministers are very young, so they think that our generation is back warded. At that time, they only know English well and very bad what is the education and science is, and exclusively oriented on the low level lecturers and therefore devoted to the Saakashvili who ill by King Oedipus complex. Jr.Dr. Ph.Dr. Mr. Bizina Savaneli. My monthly income = $ 120. 00 (!)