Disrespecting and intimidating students should be a right for law professors, not a privilege. If you roll into class unprepared, or even just looking stupid, law professors should be able to able to throw a hissy fit at you. That’s practice-ready training. Students should learn that in the real world, partners and judges will intimidate them and make them feel small and stupid for any reason, or no reason at all.

One law professor is having that right taken away from him. He’s been barred from campus. The professor claims he’s suffering from depression and Asperger’s Syndrome, and that the school violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by not accommodating his disability.

Disability? In my day, the moody professor who couldn’t keep his mouth shut or read social cues was the grindstone against which brilliant gunners sharpened their unique skills…

The National Law Journal reports that Professor Joel Cornwell has filed suit against John Marshall Law School (Chicago). Cornwell was put on administrative suspension after an “incident” in which he “lost his temper in class and chastised two students for being unprepared.” Court records don’t say what, exactly, Cornwell said to the students. But apparently John Marshal Dean John Corkery wrote: “Your recent conduct has been so disrespectful, intimidating and insubordinate that your relationship with the Law School appears to be irreparably damaged.”

I wonder what Cornwell said. I wonder what kinds of Dr. Gregory House-level stuff this guy said to his students. “Name me some examples of minimum contacts… What do you mean you can’t think of any? Take off your shoes, TAKE ‘EM OFF. Now if the classroom is Blackacre and the lawn is Whiteacre and I THROW YOUR F**KING SHOES onto Whiteacre [throws shoes out of the window], is that enough to establish personal jurisdiction? IS IT ENOUGH? No? Good, good, you are f**king educable.”

In any event, Cornwell asked the law school to make certain accommodations:

Cornwell returned to teaching in fall 2011, but his suit alleges that administrators denied his request that they appoint a mental health professional to facilitate his communications with colleagues and superiors. Cornwell later requested a faculty mentor — a request the complaint says was ignored.

Problems surfaced again in October, when Cornwell lost his temper in class and chastised two students for being unprepared, according to court records. An associate dean ordered Cornwell to apologize to the class; another administrator wrote out the wording. Cornwell read the written apology in class and then issued his own apology.

Are you kidding me, a translator? How would that not be awesome: “What Professor Cornwell meant when he called you a ‘stunning example of a vainglorious twat’ was that your answer seemed to reflect your own opinions instead of that of the Court.”

Yes, I’m being sarcastic and honestly defending Cornwell at the same time. Here’s the thing: Cornwell has been teaching at John Marshall since 1985 — 1985, folks. In 1985, we still called handicapped people “retarded” and retarded people “Mondale voters.” Let’s not act like Professor Cornwell has been teaching law since 1985 and just now started missing social cues and losing his temper at students. He was probably just as Asperger-y and depressed years ago as he is now. It’s just that John Marshall happily looked the other way.

Oh, but now that the current crop of special snowflakes can’t take that heat, now, suddenly, action needs to be taken. The word I’m seizing on from Dean Corkey is “insubordinate.” Yelling at students isn’t “insubordinate.” Yelling at maintenance workers (which Cornwell is also accused of) isn’t “insubordinate.” I’m forced to wonder if Professor Cornwell got all up in the dean’s face about something, and it was that, not his history of intimidating students, that got him suspended.

Asperger’s, real actual Asperger’s Syndrome and not just some kind of virulent strain of “I’m an a**hole,” must be something that is really hard to work with. If Cornwell had been able to overcome it successfully for all these years, it seems like John Marshall could have really gone the extra mile to get him the help he needed to deal with the current crop of students.

Professor Alleges Law School Violated ADA [National Law Journal]


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