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June 29. 2011 11:19PM

Decision on UNH prof being blasted


LARKIN 

DURHAM — University of New Hampshire officials may try to ease restrictions on firing faculty in response to Edward Larkin, a professor of German who exposed himself to a mother and her 17-year-old daughter in Milford in 2009 and was ultimately allowed to keep his job based on the decision of an arbitrator.

Numerous politicians, including Gov. John Lynch, blasted the arbitrator’s ruling Wednesday after the New Hampshire Union Leader revealed that Larkin would keep his job.

“The governor believes the arbitrator’s decision was wrong and that this professor does not belong in a classroom,” said Pamela Walsh, the governor’s deputy chief of staff.

House Speaker William O’Brien said he feared for UNH students’ safety.

“I am profoundly disappointed with the result of this case,” he said. “I certainly hope it does not result in this convicted criminal being admitted onto the campus of UNH. How contemptuous of the students that an arbitrator would ever consider putting this man in front of them as a teacher and, therefore, a role model.”

House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt supported UNH officials for trying to fire Larkin.

“I find the arbitrator’s decision to be disgraceful,” he said. “I sympathize with university officials who don’t want him back because they appreciate, as I do, that this individual is a black mark on the university.”

Michael Ryan, the arbitrator, declined to comment about his ruling, saying it would be “inappropriate.”

During negotiations late last year, the school proposed changes to the faculty contract that would have given the president greater discretion in putting professors on unpaid leave and, ultimately, in firing them, over certain offenses.

The effort failed when the faculty union rejected the proposal, and the arbitrator ruled in April that Larkin could keep his job, and the university, which had been trying to fire him since soon after the incident, was wrong in terminating his employment.

“We don’t want to give the president carte blanche to fire at will,” faculty union President Deanna Wood said of denying the school’s proposed contract change. “There has to be some kind of due process.”

Contract negotiations began again earlier this month, after breaking down last fall, and the issue is likely to come up again.

“As was made public in the fact-finding process, the university placed proposed changes to the termination clause on the table early in this round of negotiations,” UNH Chief Negotiator Candace Corvey said yesterday. “Negotiations continue, and I cannot speak in detail about them, but certainly the issue remains an active one.”

Although the Milford flashing incident amounted to a public relations problem for UNH, Larkin’s termination ultimately boiled down to a contract dispute. The arbitrator ruled that Larkin’s crime (he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor indecent exposure) did not constitute “moral delinquency of a grave order,” as required under the contract, and he noted that the last four words were unusual and presented a particularly high hurdle to overcome.

The faculty contract provides specific grounds whereby an arbitrator’s decision can be appealed to the superior court, namely a procedural mistake.

UNH President Mark Huddleston and Provost John Aber said, in a statement, they had decided they could not win such an appeal and, so, did not pursue one. They cannot appeal simply because they disagree with the arbitrator’s decision, and they did disagree with the decision, they said.

Any appeal must be filed within 30 days of a decision, and that time period has lapsed.

UNH’s move to rewrite the contract strikes at the heart of the dispute.

If such a contract change had been in place prior to Larkin’s arrest, the president likely would have been allowed to put him on unpaid leave as the school moved to fire him. The current language guaranteed Larkin paid leave, and he earned his salary of about $88,000 as the termination process dragged on for nearly two years.

But Wood noted that the phrase “moral delinquency of a grave order” was taken directly from UNH’s employee handbook more than 20 years ago and has been in the faculty contract since the union was formed.

The phrase had never been tested before Larkin’s case, and the arbitrator’s ruling did not define “moral delinquency of a grave order;” it only said that his offense didn’t rise to that level.


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