Widener University Goes Soviet On Law School Professor

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

We have previously discussed the events at Widener Law School regarding Professor Lawrence Connell and Dean Linda Ammons, here, here, and here. The university formed a committee to hear the allegations of racial harassment, sexual discrimination, and retaliation. The committee, in its report, found no clear and convincing evidence of a university code violation on the racial harassment or sexual discrimination allegations.

The committee did find clear and convincing evidence pertaining to retaliation. Thomas Neuberger, Connell’s attorney, characterizes Connell’s actions not as retaliatory but as a defense against against false charges.

Ammons recommended, and the university accepted and required, that Connell submit to a psychological evaluation and anger management counseling. Connell has been suspended for a year without pay. These actions will look retaliatory if Connell’s lawsuit ever makes it to a jury.

Connell is suing Ammons, the university, and the two students who made the accusations, alleging defamation. The lawsuit seeks $1.8 in lost wages and benefits that would have accrued in the 12 years he had planned to continue working. Connell also is seeking additional damages for harm to his reputation, humiliation, pain, suffering, and emotional distress.

Widener Law is a fourth-tier law school and this situation will do little to move it up. However, this incident could affect the reputation of Widener University. Where were the Board of Trustees while all this was going down?

H/T: Legal Insurrection, VC, The Inquirer.

51 thoughts on “Widener University Goes Soviet On Law School Professor”

  1. Widener law prof. lawsuit to stay in DE county Christine O’Donnell won 57-40

    Posted by William A. Jacobson Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 10:58am



    In a major win for Connell, a Delaware judge earlier this month denied Ammons’ request to move the case to New Castle County, finding that under Delaware law Connell’s choice of venue was to be given great weight and Ammons had not made a sufficient showing to overcome that choice:

    Quite simply,any inconvenience is minimal as to Ammons and the other defendants, and is certainly no greater than the inconvenience that Connell faces. Given all of this, I find that Connell‘s choice of forum should be respected and that it would not be an undue inconvenience for Ammons, or any of the other defendants, to attend trial in Georgetown.

    These sort of venue battles can be critical in a highly charged case as this, where juror political leanings and outlooks may influence how they see issues.

    Connell’s attorney Thomas Neuberger was not shy about the significance:

    [V]enue was the one bullet in Dean Ammons gun. She has fired her gun and she missed the target. (end of excerpt)

  2. OS is correct in general regarding psychiatrists conversant with psychotherapy, but as AN says there are still a few. However, the general agreement between the two on the psychiatric profession also reflects my thinking. A broad knowledge of the varied psycho-therapeutic/psychological theories is an absolute must for those practicing psychiatry and far, far too many lack these. If DSM categorized problems are approached merely with medical insight, the tendency to just prescribe the right drug cocktail becomes the answer. It isn’t a viable answer in many cases and often the “cure” may make the problem worse.

    While working on my Masters I was simultaneously in a psychotherapy training institute. I therefore wanted all the insight I could get from the courses offered in my university. I took a course in “Abnormal Psychology” taught by a very distinguished psychiatrist, who had written one of the most popular textbooks on the subject. The course consisted of what was in essence what psycho-pharmaceutical was to be used with what set of DSM diagnostic criteria. No insight into the specific problems was given. This dovetailed with my early work as a welfare caseworker who was used to go out to the field with Agency psychiatrists to make mental evaluations of clients. The actions of these psychiatrists and their rigidity horrified me to the extent that I refused to work with them after the second case I visited.
    Though while in psychotherapy training some of my fellow students were psychiatric professionals, I was singularly unimpressed by what I saw. My view of the profession is admittedly jaundiced.

    Mr. Connell, who I probably would find personally repugnant was dealt with in the predictable bureaucratic method of punishment, meant to provide deniability and limit liability, rather than ameliorate the matter. His days were numbered, but he was left to slowly twist in the wind via this method, rather than dealing with him forthrightly and firing him.

  3. I do not know a single psychiatrist who does psychotherapy any more. -OS

    I do. But, I’ll agree, there aren’t many…

    I remember seeing a “60 Minutes” segment years ago. The CEO of some insurance company was asked to justify certain industry practices surrounding mental health coverage and treatment of the mentally ill. His response was basically, “We handle the mentally ill differently because we can.” (I’m paraphrasing, but that was the thrust.) And then he smirked.

  4. We’ll see how it all turns out with Connell. While I might disagree with him — while I might find his views and style offensive, Ammons’ approach has been one of fanning an existing fire — she’s only made things worse, in my opinion. For any of Connell’s perceived faults, there was no reason to humiliate or denigrate him.

    One of the problems here is that someone involved in the fray ordered the evaluation. If the recommendation had been made by the university in the very beginning — and not by Ammons — it might seem less punitive — less retributive, but I don’t approve of the “take a man when he’s down and poke him with a stick” approach. Nothing good will come of it and, as we know, people sometimes “snap.”

    If Connell was close to the edge, metaphorically speaking, I’m quite certain that he’s even closer. Any “chip” that he might have been “wearing” is almost certainly bigger now.

    The well-intentioned — in trying to prevent violence or tragedy — may actually provoke it, by ill-conceived interventions. No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to predict or prevent violent acts. And we need to be very careful that we don’t provoke them.

    The Virginia Tech situation is different in that when Cho sought help, the system failed. And even it the system has been more effective, the outcome might still have been similar. Different time, different place, similar outcome. We just can’t prevent every tragedy.

  5. AY, yes. I do not know a single psychiatrist who does psychotherapy any more. Many psychiatrists see at least a half dozen patients an hour and are booked solid. I don’t know a single psychiatrist not at a mental health center who takes insurance. It is not worth the hassle. Pay at the door and get handed a HCFA 1500 form to send to your insurance. Let the patient fight the beancounters and cut overhead.

  6. OS,

    In some states you go to Psychiatry MD for Meds…not an ounce of counseling…INSURANCE will not pay for it…

  7. mespo, it is not just college counseling centers like the one at Virginia Tech. It is a pervasive problem. Try to get an appointment with a psychiatrist for medication. Good luck. A small handful of states have passed legislation to allow specially trained psychologist to prescribe psychoactive medications, but those efforts have run into a wall of resistance from the physician lobby.

    What I have seen over the years is that college counseling centers are all too often staffed with psychology students doing a practicum. Mental health centers have a hard time keeping doctoral level staff due to low pay and lousy working conditions. When staff are expected to see clients for only a few minutes each, it is hard to do the kind of assessment needed to determine dangerousness. Part of that problem is due to low third party reimbursement, or lack of reimbursement at all. Mental health care has always been the red-headed stepchild of the insurance industry.

    I have said in the past, not entirely jokingly, that things will not improve until some loose cannon like Cho goes into the executive suite of some large insurance company and hoses the place down with an automatic weapon. Then maybe, just maybe, it will get their attention.

  8. “While generally speaking, I’ll agree that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, surely you aren’t saying that Connell poses a risk similar to that of Cho? ”


    What we have here is a fellow undergoing tremendous personal stresses (daughter and brother’s illnesses), with a penchant for provocative verbal imagery including violent examples of mayhem and murder upon a perceived oppressor, certain comments that most would consider misogynistic and possibly racial, a chip on his shoulder and some indication that he is willing to pick on those vastly inferior to his position in society with no hope of pecuniary gain (the suit agianst students), along with some sense of admiration for those using violence to fend off their oppressors (Goetz). In my book, that’s enough evidence to worry, and given his proclivity to seek public redress and sympathy, just cause for an evaluation.

  9. “A panel created by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to investigate the state and local systems that allowed Cho to fall through the cracks already had criticized the Cook staff for failing to “connect the dots” about Cho, as well as for losing his records. “The system failed for lack of resources, incorrect interpretation of privacy laws, and passivity,” the panel wrote.

    With the release of Cho’s records, what emerges is a counseling center in disarray in the fall of 2005, at just the time when an increasingly erratic Cho was finally persuaded to seek help.

    That fall, the center’s one staff psychiatrist had taken a leave of absence and never returned. Articles published in the student newspaper, the Collegiate Times, warned that the center was understaffed and that students in need of mental health prescription medications were often required to drive as far as 45 miles to have them filled.

    In court papers released Tuesday, Miller, who was director of the counseling center from 2002 to 2006 and had worked there since 1988, acknowledged that he was fired shortly after calling for an independent consultant’s review in December 2005.

    Miller “inadvertently” packed Cho’s records, along with those of fewer than five other students, with his belongings when he cleaned out his office in late February 2006. Miller did not treat Cho.”

    That’s why you use a panel of psychiatrists or psychologists with some measure of accountability instead of overworked therapists affilated with the school.

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