The greatest joy of teaching is being present at the moment of creation, when a student for the first time breaks through the barrier from “being taught” to “learning.” A transcendent collision of facts acquired, experience absorbed, opinions analyzed ignites a student’s ability to think for herself. If you are fortunate enough to find yourself in the classroom when this happens and perhaps can take for yourself some small measure of credit for the intellectual fusion you have just witnessed, it’s no wonder you love your job as a member of the faculty. The rush you get is addictive and provides abundant incentive to keep you hard at work continuously improving the classes you teach and the counsel you offer your students.
There is no experience more rewarding than exposing students’ tender minds to new concepts and ideas.
Sometimes, however, the thrill is such that in order to get their fix professors push the limits of what and what not to expose their students to. Consider the great length University of New Hampshire German Professor Edward Larkin went to in order to prep for his classes. Apparently conducting field research, Larkin was convicted in 2009 of indecent exposure after showing his genitals to a woman and her 17-year-old daughter.
The State of New Hampshire considered Larkin’s act, which took place in the parking lot of the aptly named Market Basket grocery store, a misdemeanor, fined the professor $600 and ordered him to complete some 10 hours of counseling. The University of New Hampshire took a somewhat harder line, and understandably sought to get the professor out of the classroom. Larkin complained to his union, and, guess what? After a two-year paid vacation (“leave of absence with pay”) Larkin will be back in class come spring 2012 having won his case in front of an arbitrator.
The arbitrator’s decision is based on an interpretation of what constitutes “moral delinquency of a grave order,” a fire-able offense in the UNH faculty contract. Arbitrator Michael Ryan found Larkin’s action merely one of “moral delinquency”—not of a “grave order,” though—and therefore the “university did not have just cause to terminate him.”
Said Larkin in his victory statement: “The university is certainly correct to want to look after the safety of its students … The question is whether my return to UNH as a fulltime member of the faculty, which is my desire, would endanger the students or the university community,” Larkin said. “I do not believe that it does.” Speaks volumes, doesn’t it?
The Union Leader.com, the source for this post and New Hampshire’s paper of record, picks up the story from here:
Faculty union president Deanna Wood said the arbitrator’s decision was fair.
“I think it was a just ruling,” Wood said. “What we were concerned about was not whether this was a moral lapse, or even a behavioral lapse, but that the conditions of the contract were being followed and this statement about moral delinquency of a grave order had never been tested before.”
One is compelled to wonder if Professor Wood would be concerned about a “moral lapse” if it were her daughter that Larkin confronted with his genitalia at full mast. I suppose she would need to consult the contract.