Like my co-blogger David Bernstein, I’ve been closely following the situation at Widener University concerning the charges brought against Professor Lawrence Connell. (As some readers may recall, I filed an affidavit in the case in Connell’s support.) And like David, I was rather astonished by the latest news that the University has ordered that Connell will be suspended for a year without pay, must be subject to a psychiatric exam, and must apologize to students who accused him.
Trying to figure out what is happening at Widener is tricky because most of us don’t know the key players. Along those lines, I thought readers might appreciate reading a perspective about the situation from a recently-departed Widener faculty member, Professor Stephen Henderson, who recently left Widener to accept a position at the University of Oklahoma Law School. It was posted earlier today to a law-professor listserv, CRIMPROF, and I am reprinting it with his permission:
I just left Widener after spending the initial eight years of my career there. I was looking at OU before the Connell situation broke, but it made what would have been a difficult choice (there are some very good people at Widener, and my family loved living in the Delaware Valley) a very easy one. Larry is a good man and a good colleague, and is being pursued with a doggedness that nothing logical can explain. I don’t think, ultimately, the case speaks to the use of hypos as much as the dangerous abuse of power by a vindictive administration. And, perhaps, a rather sickening case of the inability (or refusal) to recognize error once it has been made.
I won’t speak to specific allegations lest I unwittingly reveal information I received in confidence, though I think much of the pertinent information is now well known. That disclosure upsets the Widener administration, and apparently some Widener profs, who seem to believe that someone removed from and banned from campus on grounds of being an imminent physical danger to the campus community, a sexist, and a racist has no right to explain or defend him- or herself from such horrible allegations. [I am not speaking to the original student allegations here, but to the administration response, which was to immediately leap to DEFCON 1.] When, after dedicating over twenty years of your life to a school, you are removed from campus upon threat of campus security and not allowed to first pick up the exams you have just proctored for the stated fear that you might destroy them, one naturally and very rightly defends his or her reputation. And the administration mistakes just kept coming from that point on.
I can only hope those responsible for this travesty resign, but it appears they are instead digging themselves ever deeper into their imaginary fantasy land. This is most unfortunate because, again, there are some really good people at Widener, and they are getting dragged through this mud that is not of their making. Not to mention what it must be like for students. It is getting to the point, however, if it hasn’t already long been there, where everyone at the school should take a firm stand. There are some situations so egregious that nobody should stand idly by and just wait it out. Now I suppose that appears an easy thing for me to say, having left, and that’s undoubtedly true. But since anyone who knows me knows that I am, for better or worse, outspoken in most everything wherever I am, I feel justified in saying it all the same. The faculty should reclaim their school, in the name of all of us who have ever had some beneficial connection to it, be it student, faculty, or otherwise.
If Dean Linda Ammons or any current or former Widener faculty member wants to respond, I’d be delighted to publish a response here as a separate blog post.