The Connell Affidavit

I mentioned it below, but I wanted to flag Professor Connell’s affidavit explaining in detail the charges against him and his responses. If the affidavit is accurate, then any remotely competent law school dean would recognize that the charges against him were based primarily on misunderstandings by students about pedagogical goals in teaching class.

Perhaps the most remarkable allegation involves Connell’s teaching People v. Goetz, which considers the legal standard for when self-defense is justified. Most casebooks go into detail about the race of the defendant and the race of the victim in this case. Dressler’s popular casebook, which I use, goes on for many pages about the role of race in the Goetz case. Dressler uses it for a long and interesting discussion about whether a “reasonable person” notices race, which goes more broadly as to the pros and cons of using rules versus standards. It’s a tricky question, and usually students divide on it. But Connell happened to use the Kaplan casebook, which doesn’t mention race at all. So Professor Connell told the class about the race of the individuals, and asked them if that should matter — essentially correcting the strange absence of that issue in the Kaplan casebook. Two students in the class apparently concluded that Connell was racist because he raised the issue himself even though it wasn’t mentioned in their casebook.

As I suggested below, I hope Widener Dean Linda Ammons will go on the record and explain her side of the story. Perhaps there is much more to the story, and if so, it may suggest that Connell’s affidavit is incomplete or misleading. But right now we have Connell’s view but not Ammons’, and I think the entire episode will leave a lot of people puzzled and wondering about what on earth is happening at Widener until the other side of the story is heard.

UPDATE: I should add that the fault seems to lie with the law school Dean, Linda Ammons, not the the students who filed the complaints. For students, first-year criminal law can be a shocking class. The professor has to talk about the darkest aspects of human nature, and how the law should regulate them, which requires asking very uncomfortable questions. Difficult issues of race, gender, and bias permeate the subject, and those are issues not normally discussed out in the open. It’s a challenging class to teach, as students often have very strong feelings about the issues that the professor is required to question.

In that setting, I think it’s understandable that a first-year law student in his or her first semester might be taken aback by how these issues are discussed. That’s especially true with students who have come to law school straight from college. Such students might think to blame the professor, rather than to see that it’s the nature of the subject that has changed. If Connell’s affidavit is accurate, the real problem is not the students but the Widener Law administration. Any remotely competent law school Dean would realize the misunderstanding, and none would act on such complaints and start disciplinary proceedings against the professor based on them.

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