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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

UNH flasher case defies all reason

Telegraph Editorial

Common sense suggests that parading around a grocery store parking lot with your pants unzipped and your genitals exposed would be good enough to get you fired from a public teaching job where you have close contact with young women.

Not so at the University of New Hampshire, where it came to light last week that professor Edward Larkin won an arbitration case filed against the school because university officials had the audacity to terminate his employment after he pleaded guilty to exposing himself to a mother and her 17-year-old daughter as they walked from their car at a Milford Market Basket supermarket in July 2009.

News reports of the incident don’t do it justice. Full appreciation of the true depravity of Larkin’s conduct requires reading the arbitrator’s report. What the mother and daughter describe as happening that day is chilling, to say the least.

But during the university’s investigation, without offering any detail, Larkin called the most serious accusations inaccurate. Larkin did not testify at the arbitrator’s hearing, nor did anyone else directly involved with the incident.

So, without collaborating witnesses, the case boiled down to “they said vs. he said” and a guilty plea to a Class B misdemeanor.

That turned out not to be enough for the arbitrator to conclude that Larkin’s gross exhibitionism constituted a “moral delinquency of a grave order” and therefore meeting the university’s collective bargaining agreement standards for termination.

The arbitrator stressed Larkin’s crime was “the lowest type” for which he did not even receive the maximum fine.

The arbitrator also took considerable comfort in the fact that Larkin will not be classified as a registered sex offender.

These factors aren’t likely to be so reassuring to future students of Larkin when he returns to work in January, after serving a one-semester suspension ordered by the arbitrator.

As it should, the university is moving to ensure Larkin doesn’t teach again.

“We are working to make sure that as we define his responsibilities that they will not create any additional adverse impacts on our students, in particular, and on the larger university community,” the university said.

It’s reassuring that the UNH chapter of the American Association of University Professors accepts the argument that putting Larkin back in the classroom is a bad idea.

“We’re not averse to any kind of negotiated consensus on this matter,” said AAUP President Deanna Wood. “He (Larkin) certainly doesn’t want to be in the public eye. He’s had quite enough of that.”

Moving forward, it will be more difficult for the university and union to reach an agreement on amending the collective bargaining agreement so that if there ever is another Larkin-like incident, administrators won’t have worry about an arbitrator splitting hairs. That reform is clearly in the best interests of the university community and the state of New Hampshire.

We appreciate AAUP-UNH is responsible for defending its members to the full extent of bargained agreements.

But the union is also entrusted with an ethical obligation to embrace reasoned efforts to ensure the university’s greater good.

In this case, the greater good means tightening the “grave” moral delinquency clause.