• April 23, 2014

New Jersey Sheriff Scolded for Confronting Professor in Classroom

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.

Comments

1. akprof - February 22, 2010 at 04:34 pm

This is silly - if what the professor said was true, why should he apologize - though the comment about child support and alimony was probably better left unsaid.

2. thirtyeyes - February 22, 2010 at 04:47 pm

I'm glad Mercer County doesn't need its sheriff to do any actual sheriffing.

I wonder if you can charge the sheriff with trespassing?

3. jpheintz - February 22, 2010 at 05:25 pm

Sherrif's misbehavior in coming to the class aside, perhaps wiseass comments about "double dipping" are better left unsaid. Unless faculty never draw pay from more than one source...

4. kathden - February 22, 2010 at 06:52 pm

Read the links!! Associate Professor Glass (according to the College Voice he is Associate Prof. rather than Assistant)--in answering a question about examples of double-dipping, that is, drawing a pension based on government service (thus being officially retired) and at the same time drawing a (presumably large) government salary for the same kind of work--mentioned Sheriff Larkin and other cases. According to the College Voice, a May 2009 article in a Trenton newspaper had presented the cases of Larkin and others as evidence of a double-dipping problem. Thus these things were very much "public domain."

The comment about child support and alimony was doubtless ill-considered, but it appears to have been intended as an example showing that what is a lot of money to one person may not seem like much to another.

5. racerboy - February 22, 2010 at 07:05 pm

According to my rough estimate, the Sheriff's time for this little episode cost New Jersey taxpayers something like $100.

6. brainbet - February 22, 2010 at 09:49 pm

The last comment by Prof. Glass (about the Sheriff's understanding) is unclear: is he supporting or challenging the Sheriff?

It sounds like the professor was bravely indignant in class, then shattered like, well, Glass, when the target of his indignation appeared. And then the professor must have complained again about the Sheriff's visit, so this story came to administrative attention.

7. briantrex - February 22, 2010 at 11:25 pm

The core issue here is the student texting during class. That's not allowed in my classroom. This matter wouldn't have happened had the student not disrupted the class with this action.

The student should be disciplined.

8. suaveradical - February 23, 2010 at 12:49 am

I taught at this school in a different department back in 2008. I would have sued the Sheriff had he done this to me. At the least he would owe me and my students both time and money for the interruption of their educational experience. Politically, New Jersey has a major issue with state government officials double dipping and later collecting on multiple pensions. This professor was well within his rights to bring up this and other examples. It's a serious studied issue in New Jersey and this was, after all, a PolySci class. How dare the Sheriff waste this professor's and student's time! Even if they knew each other, hasn't anyone ever heard of making an appointment?!

9. la4097237 - February 23, 2010 at 06:06 am

It's not just New Jersey. In Louisiana, teachers are eligible for retirement after 20 years and get 2% of their peak three years average annual salary for each year. If they put in 25+ years, the rate jumps to 2.5% for each year. After about 33 years, their retirment is essentially 100% of their average peak three year earnings. If they lay out a year, they are eligible to go back to their old classroom(s) without any penalty to their retirement income.
Typically the pay for the part time retirees is based on the rate paid newly hired assistant professors which is often significantly higher than old hands were making that retired as full professors.

10. lexalexander - February 23, 2010 at 08:00 am

Big picture, people: A government official walked into a classroom with the intention of intimidating the teacher. That ought to raise a big, red flag in front of EVERYONE.

I also can't help thinking that if it had been, say, a city council member or legislator, particularly a long-haired liberal one, instead of a law-enforcement officer, there'd be a lot more people raising hell about this.

11. dubious - February 23, 2010 at 08:13 am

"Big picture, people: A government official walked into a classroom with the intention of intimidating the teacher. That ought to raise a big, red flag in front of EVERYONE."

A government official who was probably armed.

Not surprising, given that it was New Jersey.

12. willismg - February 23, 2010 at 09:48 am

Double dipping, so-called, has been going on in many places for a long time. When I was in the service in the 80's, it was one of the major draws to stick out a career in a less-than-lucrative but critical societal function. The lure of one day getting your 20 years of service retirement pay on top of equally meager civilian gov't pay was actually a recruiting point.

As for a big, bad, armed Gub'ment ofishal calling out the meek, intimidated, heroic professor, well... It appeared from my reading that prior to this, they had a cordial, friendly relationship which the lecturer "betrayed", albeit seemingly in jest. It also appears that the sherriff did not publically berate the lecturer, but called him discretely into the hall, probably to say something like, "Dude, ya know, what the hell is going on? I thought we were okay. That was a little over the line."

The lecturer seems to have handled it appropriately and it should have ended there. Two grown men resolving a personal issue like men.

That this has been turned into all this is a little disconcerting. "Charge him with trespassing!" No wonder many people have little respect for professors...

Oh, and yes... what the hell was that student doing texting in class anyway?

Sorry for the outburst folks, but my biorhythms are a bit low today...

13. justme2010 - February 23, 2010 at 10:00 am

Let us get a grip, and our facts straight. "Double dipping" is a term used to refer to someone collecting two salaries for doing the same job. It has also been used for folks who retire and are brought back to do the same job they retired from. It has never been intended for someone who retires from one position, and returns to a completely different position in a different workplace (is that illegal now?). I assume the sheriff was elected.
If so, he certainly is not double-dipping, unless you are also going to include in that definition all those professors collecting a salary plus all the "special contracts" and sweetheart deals so prevalent in academia.
I totally disagree with disturbing the professor while in class. However, I am sure I would have had a chat with big mouth later.

14. dank48 - February 23, 2010 at 10:14 am

The double-dipping discussion was appropriate. The alimony and child-support gossip was not. Neither is it appropriate for a student to be texting, but that's really a side issue, since the student blew the whistle when the teacher went over the line.

How many unconditional supporters of academic freedom are willing to extend it to loose discussion of what you personally do with your money? Your time? Your personal life? Mr. Glass enjoys the right to academic freedom, as he should. But his rights have limits, as they must, imposed by the rights of others.

Seems to me there was a fair amount of inappropriate behavior here, and it didn't add up to more than a few people all of whom need a refresher on manners: Don't run your mouth in class about other people's personal lives. Don't text in class. Don't show up unannounced to object to gossip.

As for the comments about Mr. Larkin showing up armed, well, he is the sheriff. My acquaintance with Jersey is not profound--although it has been uniformly pleasant--but I suspect most NJ law officers carry, just as they do in Indiana. "He who goes unarmed in Paradise should first make sure that's where he is."

15. pschmidt - February 23, 2010 at 11:14 am

Per the accuracy concern raised in post no. 4 by kathden, Michael Glass does indeed have the title "assistant professor," as reported here.--Peter Schmidt

16. tookt - February 23, 2010 at 11:27 am

I agree with dank48. The gossip about alimony and child support were inappropriate. The professor deserved the confrontation although it should not have occured in the classroom. THe comments about double-dipping were appropriate.

17. mssmiley - February 23, 2010 at 01:27 pm

Instructors do not "shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate." This is free and constitutionally proteceted speech; let the students discern the facts and make thier own decision.The sheriff was out of line here and should be reprimended. What's next? a liberal or conservative poliltician storming the classrom because he received word that he was critized in a class? This was a letigimate discourse and I think his interruption sets a bad precedent.

18. rambo - February 23, 2010 at 02:37 pm

adacemia professors hided behind tenure and freedom of speech, the real-world workplace outside the universities is the last place no one can criticized...

19. ddmyer58 - February 23, 2010 at 07:05 pm

And I thought Maricopa County (AZ) was the only one with a sheriff who cannot take any kind of criticism.

This is appalling and has nothing to do with hiding behind tenure and freedom of speech. It has to do with an abuse of power.

20. grumpygradstudent - February 23, 2010 at 07:33 pm

I'd fail the student on the spot: 1. for using a cell-phone during class. and 2. All of my classes, including my lectures and guest speakers are for non-attribution only - and this is clearly enunciated at the beginning of the semester.

21. roro1618 - February 24, 2010 at 10:08 am

The sheriff was inappropriate and the student would be sanctioned for texting in class, as that is clearly against my written and articulated syllabus policy

22. stinkcat - February 24, 2010 at 05:00 pm

Texting the sherriff in class is innappropriate. Texting after class hours would have been well within the students rights.

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