How to Fire Professors

from Inside Higher Education: On July 19, 2009, Edward T. Larkin, a professor of German at the University of New Hampshire, drove his motorcycle down Route 101 to the Market Basket in Milford. He pulled into the parking lot behind a car in which a 17-year-old girl was driving her mother. Larkin parked and dismounted.

As the woman and her daughter got out of their car, they looked over at Larkin, who was standing nearby in a black and yellow jacket. His zipper was down and his penis was hanging out.

After his arrest for indecent exposure, Larkin was placed on paid administrative leave. The following spring, he pleaded guilty to a class B misdemeanor, paid a $1,000 fine and was ordered by the court to undergo a psychological evaluation. Larkin was not required to register as a sex offender.

After the guilty plea, the university’s president, Mark Huddleston, sought to fire Larkin. While Huddleston expressed concern that even a minimal risk of a repeat offense was too much to bear, his administration also argued that the professor’s conduct — and the widespread media coverage it generated — had damaged the university’s reputation, which, in turn, would hurt UNH’s ability to attract students and raise money. “Reputation is all we have,” Huddleston said during a hearing on the matter.

But the professor appealed, citing language in the faculty union’s contract that has been in place since 1984 but was never tested until this case. The contract sets a high bar for dismissing faculty for just cause, describing the reasons as “professional incompetence, deliberate neglect of duty or moral delinquency of a grave order.” Regarding Larkin, a tenured professor with more than 25 years of service to the university and nary a question raised previously about his conduct in the classroom or as a scholar, the entire situation (including his own motives during the incident) proved baffling.

The matter went to arbitration in January, and the question of whether Larkin would be able to keep his job hinged on this question: what distinguishes general moral delinquency from moral delinquency of a grave order?

Moral turpitude clauses are common in faculty contracts. The term is defined in a set of interpretive comments by the American Association of University Professors from 1970. It is described as conduct that is so “utterly blameworthy” that it would “evoke condemnation by the academic community generally,” though, the AAUP added, such opprobrium is not the same thing as a breach of the moral sensibilities of people in any particular community. readmore here

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