The church bells that mark each hour at Case Western Reserve University send broad, dramatic reverberations across the campus landscape. On the typical day, they mark an impending commitment, an approaching evaluation, the passage of time. But these past days have not been typical; they have been detrimental.
Case Western Reserve is now the subject of the worst kind of local, regional and national media coverage. The merits of our institution, such as academic excellence, investigative discovery and experiential achievement, are—for the moment—a recessed memory, shoved aside by startling accusations that have turned the spotlight from gleaming white to hostile red. Together they hold that Case Western Reserve knowingly allowed one of its core values—respect towards women—to be blatantly bruised and abandoned.
In a now public lawsuit against Lawrence Mitchell, the dean of CWRU’s School of Law, CWRU School of Law Professor Raymond Ku alleges Mitchell committed sexually inappropriate acts at the university since his deanship began in 2011. The accusations hold that Mitchell directed inappropriate gestures and comments towards females in the law school, such as allegedly engaging in the public, bare-skinned caressing of a female colleague who was wearing a summer dress. Additionally, Mitchell allegedly commented to staff members that one graduate student “wasn’t good for anything but keeping the bed warm.”
Ku contends he reported his concerns and the concerns of colleagues to university administrators, such as Provost William “Bud” Baeslack III and Marilyn Mobley, the vice president for inclusion, diversity and equal opportunity . According to the lawsuit, Ku’s reports resulted in retaliatory acts that included the stripping of his duties as associate dean of the law school.
In response to Ku’s lawsuit, the university released a defensive statement this past week. “This situation is categorically not an instance of retaliation,” the statement reads. “Professor Ku continues to hold a full-time, tenured faculty position at the School of Law. The lawsuit itself includes inaccuracies, as well as an inflammatory flier that has been found to be materially false.”
The suit also draws attention to concerns allegedly expressed by members of the search committee prior to Mitchell’s hiring. “[A]ccording to Administrative Staff Member 2, the Search committee was aware that (1) while Dean Mitchell was a professor at George Washington [University], he divorced his wife to marry a student; (2) he then divorced the student; (3) he then married a woman who joined the law faculty; and (4) they divorced after adopting a child,” the court documents state.
Regardless of a potentially tumultuous past at George Washington University, Mitchell was welcomed to Case Western Reserve without reservation in 2011. “Lawrence Mitchell possesses the intellect, energy and enthusiasm required to lead our law school forward,” President Barbara R. Snyder said at the time of his hiring. “He is creative, collegial and absolutely committed to engaging students, staff, faculty and alumni.”
Despite The Daily and other friendly news outlets publishing positive articles about the institution this past week, one “oh shucks!” will always outweigh a thousand attaboys. For the moment, the actions or inactions that occurred at the law school will push aside the other, well-deserved merits of our institution.
As this story progresses, The Observer will continue to cover it without bias or reservation. After all, the only thing we know for sure is that life moves forward and this campus’ church bells will continue to toll. But rather than mark the passing of time, they will be signing each new crack in the presently embattled reputation of Case Western Reserve.