New Hampshire Governor Criticizes Decision to Allow German Professor to Keep His Job

June 30, 2011

An arbitrator's decision to allow Edward T. Larkin, a professor of German at the University of New Hampshire, to keep his job has drawn the ire of the governor and several high-ranking state lawmakers. Mr. Larkin was convicted in 2009 of exposing himself to a 17-year-old girl and her mother in a public parking lot.

The arbitrator, Michael Ryan, ruled in April that Mr. Larkin could not be fired by the university under a clause in his union contract barring "moral delinquency of a grave order" because his case, while constituting "moral delinquency," did not rise to the level of gravity necessary to warrant his termination. Mr. Ryan came to this decision, he wrote, in part because the crime was a misdemeanor under state law, and Mr. Larkin was not required to register as a sex offender.

New Hampshire's governor, John H. Lynch, "thinks the arbitrator's decision was wrong," says Pamela Walsh, the governor's deputy chief of staff, and believes "Professor Larkin should not be in a classroom." She declined to comment on whether the governor, a Democrat, objected to the specific language of the contract and added that the governor was not involved in the proceedings.

Mr. Larkin, who has been on paid leave from the university since September 2009, will be put on unpaid leave for the fall of 2011 and return to the university in the spring of 2012. He will remain on university probation for three years.

Following Mr. Larkin's arrest, university officials sought to modify the faculty contract to allow the president more leverage in firing faculty members who had committed significant offenses, but the changes were rejected by the faculty union. Contract negotiations resumed again in June, and it is likely that the issue of administrative discretion in faculty terminations will be raised again, says Deanna Wood, president of the University of New Hampshire chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the faculty union.

The University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees also criticized the decision regarding Mr. Larkin.

"It is outrageous that the faculty union protected this faculty member, who was charged and pled guilty to conduct that was not only unbecoming of a teacher and role model but actually dangerous to the community," the board's chair, Edward Dupont, said in a statement. "This has been an extraordinarily challenging disciplinary case, and we share the extreme frustration felt by most people that the university was not allowed to dismiss Mr. Larkin."

The distinction between "moral delinquency" and "moral delinquency of a grave order" is subjective, said Raymond D. Cotton, a lawyer in Washington who specializes in higher-education contracts, and an arbitrator would have to exercise his or her "cultural and moral framework" to decide where the crime stood on that scale.

And while it is common for contracts to include a "moral turpitude" clause, Mr. Cotton said, it also is unsurprising that a faculty contract would include a relatively rigorous standard for firing, because tenured professors have such a high level of job protection.

Mr. Larkin did not return requests for comment on Thursday but offered his perspective on the case in a statement included in the arbitrator's report.

"I don't believe my competence, either as instructor or as scholar, has been diminished by the incident in question," he wrote. "My ongoing work with mental-health professionals coupled with the extraordinary support of my family and of my many colleagues at UNH gives me the confidence to know that my behavior will not be repeated."