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Debate over UNH professor continues

Union Leader Correspondent

September 24. 2011 7:00PM

The New Hampshire, UNH's student newspaper, has become a lightning rod for a debate over the reinstatement of a professor who exposed himself to a mother and daughter. (CLYNTON NAMUO)

DURHAM - Opinions about the reinstatement of Professor Edward Larkin, the University of New Hampshire professor who exposed himself to a mother and daughter, turned white hot in recent weeks and nowhere has that been more apparent than in the university's student newspaper, The New Hampshire.

The paper's editorial stance has been vehemently against Larkin's reinstatement and any interaction with students. So much so, the school's faculty union president has suggested that university officials had buckled under pressure from The New Hampshire when they announced last week that Larkin would not be allowed to teach for three years, even though he will return to work in January.

The New Hampshire published a scorching editorial Sept. 13 that called Larkin a 'pervert,' told students to boycott his classes when he returned to teaching and criticized the arbitrator who ruled that he should be allowed to return to work. The paper pulled no punches as it described how Larkin, a professor of German, exposed himself in Milford in July 2009, ending with, 'And, UNH students, this pervert could be your professor next fall.'

The editorial set off a fierce back-and-forth between the paper and those who support Larkin's reinstatement, including his wife, Maria, who wrote a letter, and 32 professors and staff members who signed a separate joint letter that called the piece 'incendiary and unfair.'

'The editorial written about my husband is so insensitive and reprehensible that it is in and of itself more damaging than the actual act of indecent exposure it wishes to condemn,' Maria Larkin wrote. 'The students who wrote the editorial clearly are projecting (using my husband as a target) their uncomfortable feelings about the act of indecent exposure and distancing themselves from their own fears of mental illness.'

In an unusual move, The New Hampshire fired back in a second editorial, published Sept. 20.

'It is rather ironic that these members of the faculty and staff have turned Larkin into a victim while disregarding the mother and daughter he victimized, seemingly alongside every member of this campus community who has ever faced sexual harassment and victimization,' The New Hampshire wrote.

In response to Maria Larkin's letter, the paper said, 'She too could not help but attempt to turn her husband into a victim.'

The executive editor of The New Hampshire, Chad Graff, who also works as a part-time sports reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News, said the sheer number of professors and staff who signed the letter merited a response, as did Maria Larkin's contention that the editorial was worse than the crime itself. Edward Larkin pleaded guilty to misdemeanor indecent exposure.

'The language was certainly harsh, but I think that it is also the stance that professors disagree with,' Graff said.

Graff said the paper stands by everything it wrote.

Professors who signed the letter against the initial editorial said The New Hampshire's language and tone was inappropriate.

'Even if you have a strong opinion, you still expect a level of civility,' said Thomas Newkirk, a professor of English who authored the letter.

Andrew Merton, who is chair of the English department and teaches journalism, said he signed the letter to provide balance to the initial editorial.

'Reasonable people can disagree without being inflammatory or insulting,' he said.

Of the second editorial, he said, 'I think it's kind of childish.'

Both professors, however, said they were not defending Larkin's crime.

Not all professors have stood behind Larkin. Two professors in the department of Theatre and Dance wrote a letter, published last week, which referred to the Larkin controversy as 'an embarrassment to the university and a stain on its reputation.'

It's unclear how strong an effect The New Hampshire's editorials have had, but Deanna Wood, the president of UNH's faculty union, said she believes administrators used the pieces to help bolster an announcement, made the same day the second editorial was published, that Larkin be banned from teaching for three years.

'I think they saw this kind of sensationalism and decided to profit from it,' she said.

UNH spokesman Erika Mantz denied the claim, saying Larkin's work duties were laid out long ago.

'Professor Larkin received a letter at the end of June that outlined the terms of his three-year probation,' she said in a statement. 'That letter clearly stated that he 'not participate in meetings of any kind with students' during his probation. Given the recent media coverage about his possible return to teaching, we felt it was important to clarify that Professor Larkin would not be teaching during the probationary period, given that he is not permitted to meet with students.'

Mantz said the letter was not public and declined to release it.

Neither Edward nor Maria Larkin returned messages to comment for this article, and the University System Board of New Hampshire Chairman Ed Dupont, through a spokesman, refused to comment.

There has been a notable absence in the debate raging on The New Hampshire's editorial page - that of UNH students.

Not a single student has written a letter on the issue, Graff said, though he believes some are writing online comments, anonymously or using pseudonyms, which have been mixed.

'I definitely think students care, but I just think it's more the way students were raised,' he said. 'If you're going to respond to something, you're going to respond online.'

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