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In fact, to further prosecute Connell, Widener added a retaliation charge against Connell simply because he sought to “take the depositions of the two charging parties” in his lawsuit. The hearing panel cleared him of that charge as well.
But that wasn’t the end of Widener’s extremely questionable retaliation charges against Connell. Other charges included, according to Neuberger, “emailing his students to explain why Ammons had banned him from the campus” and Neuberger’s having issued a press release “explaining his efforts to identify Connell’s accusers and to protect his client’s reputation.”
For these two “offenses” in his effort to clear his name and explain his disappearance from campus to his own students, Connell was found responsible for “retaliation.” I hope he appeals.
All of this prosecution for what from the very beginning looked like completely trumped-up charges is pretty despicable. The behavior of Widener and Ammons should be embarrassing to the faculty, students, administration, and trustees. The apparently bad-faith charges against Connell were found to be without merit. Yet, Connell was required to keep his prosecution so secret that he couldn’t even tell his students why he was kicked out of class, and his attorney couldn’t even try to protect his client’s reputation. When he did, Widener tacked on new charges, and Connell is now facing discipline for them, despite the fact that he was completely innocent of the original charges. When a professor can get in trouble for defending himself against false accusations, you know something is profoundly wrong at his university.
Just as unjustly, Widener’s policy prohibits Connell from releasing the hearing panel’s 52-page unanimous decision in his favor on all of the counts of harassment and discrimination, although Widener itself is perfectly free to do so. Does Widener have something to hide other than its bad conduct in this case? I urge Widener to release the document immediately, but I am not holding my breath.
Back in March, FIRE wrote Widener University President James T. Harris III, asking him to respect Connell’s academic freedom and bring this case to a quick end. A few days later, we received a response from Widener’s attorney, who—unsurprisingly—emphasized secrecy about the case. Widener is learning the hard way that universities can’t defend in public the rights violations they try to get away with in private.
Meanwhile, this case drags on as Widener drags itself through the mud. We will let you know what happens in the disciplinary process at Widener and Connell’s defamation lawsuit in Delaware.
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