Widener professor cleared of harassment

Widener University School of Law professor Lawrence Connell was once again backed up by his colleagues after a university panel cleared Connell of accusations of sexual and racial harassment filed by two of his former students, although he was found to have violated the retaliation provision of the school’s code of conduct.

Connell has been in hot water since last December, when law school administrators informed him of complaints by his criminal law students about his use of violent hypotheticals and allegations that he made offensive remarks about women and minorities, including Widener Dean Linda Ammons, who was named in one of his hypos.

In February, Connell was formally charged by the school for making racist and sexist comments and not cooperating in their investigation of him, but a panel of law school faculty members reviewed the matter and recommended the school not dismiss Connell.

Following that decision, two students formally filed complaints under the school’s harassment and discrimination code, which led to the most recent panel decision.

Issued by two law professors and one university administrator, the 52-page unanimous decision determined there was not proof of the sexual and racial harassment charges facing Connell, and also dismissed one charge of retaliation.

The one charge against Connell that did stick was the panel’s finding that he violated the university’s code of conduct retaliation provision when he e-mailed his students to explain why he was taking administrative leave and also when his attorney announced that Connell wanted to identify the students who had accused him of wrongdoing.

Connell, who is expected to return to teaching in the fall, has a lawsuit pending against Ammons for defamation. He recently added the two students who originally made the claims against him, alleging that because he holds conservative views, the students acted in conspiracy with Ammons to destroy his reputation.