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In Re Connell - Report of Formal Hearing Committee

In Re Connell - Report of Formal Hearing Committee

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Published by: Legal Insurrection on Aug 06, 2011
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Formal Committee Report, In Re Connell1
In Re Lawrence J. ConnellReport of the Formal Hearing CommitteeWidener UniversityJuly 20, 2011
Summary
The complainants, Jennifer R. Perez and Nadege Tandoh, are second-year lawstudents who have submitted variegated formal allegations of racial harassment, sexualdiscrimination, and retaliation, against Lawrence Connell, an Associate Professor of Lawat the Widener University School of Law, under Widener University’s Discriminationand Harassment Code (“Code”). The University formed a formal committee (the“Committee”) consisting of Professor Judy Ritter (Chair), Associate Vice President of Administration George Hassel, and Professor Jim May, to hear the complaint. TheCommittee’s charge is to determine whether there is “clear and convincing evidence” thatProfessor Connell has committed an infraction of the Code. This is believed to be thefirst time that the University has impaneled a Formal Committee to resolve a complaintunder the Code. To the Committee’s knowledge, there is no institutional precedent for these proceedings.In issuing its report (“The Report”), the Committee hereby makes four unanimousdeterminations. First, it determines that there is not clear and convincing evidence thatProfessor Connell has violated the Code pertaining to sexual harassment or discrimination. Second, it determines that there is not clear and convincing evidence thatProfessor Connell has violated the Code pertaining to racial harassment or discrimination.Third, it finds that Professor Connell has violated the Code concerning retaliation. Last,the Committee addresses certain procedural matters.
 
Formal Committee Report, In Re Connell2The Report is divided into six parts: (1) introduction, (2) standard of review,evidence and academic freedom, (3) racial harassment and discrimination, (4) sexualharassment and discrimination, (5) retaliation, and (6) procedural questions.
I. Introduction
Complainants Jennifer R. Perez and Nadege Tandoh (“Complainants”) arestudents at Widener University School of Law. In the spring semester of 2010, they wereenrolled in a Criminal Law class taught by Professor Connell, who has taught at the lawschool for 26 years.
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On March 10, 2011, the Complainants filed a Formal Complaint(“FC”)
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against Professor Connell pursuant to Section 6 of Widener University’s FacultyMember Discrimination and Harassment Code (“Code”).
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Professor Connell is a tenured member of the law faculty. During his 26 years at thelaw school, he has never had a formal or informal complaint or grievance filed againsthim. He first learned of these concerns on December 10, 2010, when he was confronted by Vice Dean Kelly after Professor Connell had just completed administering a finalexam. Vice Dean Kelly asked Professor Connell to accompany him to the Dean’sconference room. In the conference room, Vice Dean Kelly handed Connell a binder of charges,with a cover letter and associated materials to review. Vice Dean Kelly askedProfessor Connell some questions, in the presence of Chief of Security for the law school.Professor Connell was given until December 14, 2010 to respond to the charges inwriting.According to Professor Connell, this encounter, “insinuated that I was somethingevil and sinister. This point was only reinforced by his confronting me with the Chief of Security, as if I were a common criminal, and by his preventing my access to my exams.To compound my humiliation and fears, he had already gone on the record with his letter to characterize my teaching methods as violent and threatening.”Because the law school administration deemed that Professor Connell was notcooperating in its investigation, he was placed on paid administrative leave on December 20, 2010. He has been banned from campus ever since. Professor Connell has sinceinstituted a legal action in Sussex County, DE, against Linda Ammons, the University,and the complainants, for defamation.
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The Formal Complaint is marked as “Exhibit 5” to the Transcript of the Formal Hearingin this matter. Referenced page numbers herein follow the source. For example, “FC2”refers to page 2 of the Formal Complaint.
 
Formal Committee Report, In Re Connell3Complainants allege that Professor Connell has engaged in conduct thatconstitutes racial harassment,
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sexual discrimination,
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and retaliation under the Code.The burden is upon complainants to demonstrate to the Committee that there is “clear andconvincing” evidence of these accusations.The “Record” in this matter is voluminous, comprising more than 1,500 pages of transcripts, affidavits, communications, committee instructions, and legal reasoning andreferences. It consists of: a. The formal hearing transcript; b. affidavits wherein theaffiant acknowledges the duty to tell the truth; c. relevant non-testimonial evidence, andeither an original document, photocopy or reprint of an original document; d. such other evidence as the Committee allowed at its sole discretion;
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and, e. cross-examinationquestions.
 Notice of Pre-Hearing and Hearing Procedures and Rules
, May 19, 2011,item 2. The Record also includes a 3-ring notebook of documents compiled by Vice DeanKelly, who is also the University’s designated “Grievance Officer” assigned to thismatter. Code, Section 6(a).
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The Code requires that the Dean of the Law School appoint a Formal HearingCommittee to consider unresolved formal complaints. Code, Section 6(d)(i).Accordingly, Dean Linda Ammons appointed a Formal Hearing Committee consisting of 
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Neither complainant accuses Professor Connell of Racial Discrimination under theCode.
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Ms. Tandoh does not contend that she has been the subject of sexual discrimination. Neither complainant has alleged sexual harassment under Section 4(c) of the Code.
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Professor Connell submitted copies of 29 supportive emails that he received fromformer students, five of whom were enrolled in his Spring 2011 Criminal Law class and24 of whom were not in that class. While the Committee did not discount these emails, because the comments they contained were not accompanied with an acknowledgementof the sender’s duty to tell the truth, they were given less weight than sworn affidavitsand in-hearing testimony.
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This report notes the extent that the Committee either considered anything notspecifically listed, or deemed irrelevant something that is listed.

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