New Jersey Sheriff Scolded for Confronting Professor in Classroom

February 22, 2010

Some students at Mercer County Community College, in central New Jersey, watched the political become personal recently when the local sheriff entered a classroom to confront a professor who had mentioned him in an unfavorable light.

The college's president, Patricia C. Donohue, last week issued a statement saying that Sheriff Kevin C. Larkin had violated the college's policy against visitors' entering classes in session without the approval of the instructor.

"No, we do not think it is appropriate for any visitor to interrupt a class," Ms. Donohue's statement said. "An investigation of this incident has been completed, and we plan to follow up with the individual about what our visitor policy is."

The incident occurred on February 1, as Michael Glass, an assistant professor of political science, was lecturing students in a course on state and local politics about New Jersey's budget gap, according to an account offered by the institution's student newspaper, The College Voice, and described by Ms. Donohue's office as confirmed by the college's own investigation.

Sheriff Larkin came up in the class as an example of public employees who engaged in "double dipping," by collecting a pension at the same time he received a salary. When a student remarked that he would not know how to spend the more than $200,000 Mr. Larkin was earning annually through salary and pension payments, Mr. Glass allegedly said Mr. Larkin needed much of the money to cover alimony and child support.

A student who is employed at the county clerk's office promptly sent the sheriff a text message about the comment, and Mr. Larkin soon came to the classroom himself and summoned Mr. Glass out into the hallway for a few minutes. Mr. Glass then returned to the room, introduced the sheriff, and apologized for making disparaging remarks about him.

The student newspaper quoted Mr. Glass as saying that he and Mr. Larkin, who previously worked at the college, have known each other for about 30 years and have had a friendly relationship. The newspaper also quoted Mr. Glass as saying he had felt intimidated.

Mr. Glass said he thought the sheriff would "have a clear understanding what any given professor, whether it's me or anybody else, can or can't say in a classroom."

A spokesman for the sheriff's office declined to comment on Monday.