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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Former CWRU Law School Dean Lawrence Mitchell Was Supposed to Return to CWRU Faculty This Year; Thankfully That Didn't Happen

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2015 at 1:17 PM

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The only mention of it was buried in a Cleveland.com article on the appointment of new official co-deans of Case Western Reserve University's law school, but it's worth teasing out on its own. [Update: It was also fully fleshed out by the tremendous CWRU paper, The Observer, on August 21 here.]

Lawrence Mitchell, the former CWRU law school dean who was the subject of a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit originated in late 2013 that CWRU ended up settling in the summer of 2014, took a sabbatical in New York following his leave from the position. We're not entirely sure what he did with all of that time, but we know for sure that he wrote and recorded himself reading creepy poetry during some of it, among other things. It'd been a long few years for the man whose passion for the law was eclipsed only by his passion for allegedly propositioning students for threesomes, as detailed in Scene's lengthy investigation in May 2014.

So Mitchell disappeared amidst that mess, resigning his top post in March of that year before heading out on sabbatical. What hadn't really been reported was that he was supposed to return to CWRU's law school faculty this year. That quietly didn't happen. As Cleveland.com notes, "Mitchell, who took took a year's sabbatical and moved to New York City in 2014, was to return to CWRU this fall to rejoin the faculty but resigned 'to pursue other opportunities,' CWRU said."

There's good reason for that, in addition to everything else publicly known about the case. Two affidavits filed provide even more evidence of how Mitchell used his position to make untoward and unwanted advances and comments.

In one affidavit in the case, a graduate of the law school who was then employed in the department notes that they were "aware of Dean Mitchell's reputation for making sexual advances on students and staff," (to be clear, this knowledge came after employment and not during their time as a student) and that three male professors took on the unofficial role of watching Mitchell at events "to control him in social situations." Associate deans had warned the student of Mitchell's proclivities and that events with students were only to occur in public settings. Specifically, the affidavit mentions a dinner at Felice Urban Cafe attended by Mitchell, some staff, and some Chinese exchange students. Mitchell had been drinking heavily, it notes, and continued drinking during dinner. "Dean Mitchell was very touchy feely with the female exchange students, cuddling up against them. In particular, Dean Mitchell pulled one Chinese student... close to him. At one point he had his arm around her." The staff and the student made sure no students rode home with Mitchell that night. It was open conversation at the school how bad his behavior was, senior staffers well aware of his "bully-like demeanor" but everyone felt like they had to put up with it because he "was the guy in charge."

A second affidavit, from a tenured professor, goes into more detail about the widespread fears before Mitchell's hiring about his background and behavior and whether he would bring those to CWRU.

"I am aware from discussions with faculty colleagues who served on the dean-search committee that resulted in the hiring of Lawrence Mitchell as dean that many colleagues knew and had serious reservations about the hiring of Mitchell because of problems in his background from George Washington University. Mitchell was reputed to have had multiple marriages, divorced one of those wives, dated and married a student, and dated and married a junior colleague." One member of the search committee told the professor "that Mitchell brought too much baggage and that the risk to the law school and the University was too high." Those warnings, of course, went unheeded.

As did the professor's documented concerns of specific instances after Mitchell joined the university. That included Mitchell drinking heavily at a party at the professor's house and female attendees saying that he behaved "creepy." That included a misleading inclusion in the professor's tenure file that, when he sought to have it corrected, was handled by Raymond Ku, the associate dean who filed the retaliation lawsuit against the university and Mitchell after reporting his claims to university officials. The professor kept in contact with Ku about his interactions with the university and Mitchell after making the report and the subsequent retaliation against Ku by Mitchell. The professor also details a lengthy email he sent to Chris Sheridan, President Barbara Snyder's Senior Adviser and a university Vice President, on Sept. 28, 2011, alerting Sheridan to a startling amount of claims against Mitchell.

"I am writing to you because I am deeply concerned about the health and well being of my friend and colleague Lawrence Mitchell. I am also writing because I am concerned about the risks, reputational and others, that his purported behavior may bring to the University," it reads. The email outlines complaints from four staff, two faculty and four students who talked to the professor about Mitchell's drinking and propositions to one student for a three-way. As outlined in our original investigation, Dr. Marilyn Mobley, Case's Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity, handled the matter and "investigation," which was closed quickly with no action taken.

It wasn't the first or last university official, according to the professor, who knew about Mitchell's behavior and not just ignored it, but backed his decision to get rid of Ku.

"Later, at Thanksgiving or at a Burns Night Celebration at my home, Mitchell confirmed to me that Ku had reported possible sexual misconduct to the Provost, that the Provost agreed that Mitchell had to get rid of Ku because "you can't work with someone who goes over your head on a misconduct allegation," and that Mitchell had enough dirt on Ku to fire him, but that Mitchell had made life so miserable for Ku that he had resigned before Mitchell had the chance to fire Ku. Mitchell stated that he had both the Provost and the office of general counsel's authorization to do what he did to Ku."

That is perhaps the most damning part of all of this, and the least talked about. Even after settling the lawsuit, even after Mitchell's leave and then resignation and then departure altogether (which was widely applauded by the law school staff), the trouble remains that according to the tenured professor and Ku's lawsuit, many upper level staff members at CWRU, including the provost, the office of general counsel, and the right-hand man to president Barbara Snyder, heard all of the allegations and not only protected the hand-picked dean, but allegedly authorized Mitchell to dispatch with Ku. The fact that professors then felt uneasy about being able to voice their concerns to the president, board of trustees and others, as documented in the affidavit, in fear that they would land on deaf ears or, even worse, provoke similar retaliation, is damning and alarming.

And there's this capper: "During the course of the Ku litigation against Mitchell and Case, the University has never sought to gather documents from me, including the email I reference above." 


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