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An ongoing discussion about conservatism in New Jersey.
Nothing like a little police intimidation to set a NJ professor straight
Peter C. Hansen  (February 19, 2010, 6:49 pm)

Paging Prof. Sabrin! Better call your office to make sure it's safe to show up ....

Tenure may be great for letting one ease back a bit, but it doesn't ward off angry cops in New Jersey.

PolitckerNJ and Mercer County College's College Voice newspaper have reported that elected county Sheriff Kevin C. Larkin entered Prof. Michael Glass's West Windsor campus classroom during a lecture, called him by his first name, took him out in the hall, had a little chit-chat with him, marched him back in, and got the good professor to apologize for talking about Larkin, who stood real close to him the whole time. Even then, he left saying "this isn't over."

Strangely, this incident was about the only thing worldwide in the past 24 hours not to have made it onto YouTube. That perhaps tells you how free the students felt in the presence of a guy so apparently insecure that he has to emulate Bull Connor. Here is what Prof. Glass said about his experience:

I was surprised to see him show up at the classroom, and ... I was wondering if it was appropriate for him, one, to be there, and two, to want to be in the class .... I didn't feel it was the time or place to discuss it, but since he was physically there, I reacted in the way that I did. ... Yes [I felt intimidated] .... I thought ... he'd have a clear understanding of what any given professor, whether it's me or anybody else, can or can't say in a classroom.

So what was Glass talking about? A public report in the Trenton Times that Sheriff Larkin is getting a salary and a pension for the same job, to the tune of nearly $215,000 a year. Of course, it is important to keep public information like that suppressed. It's bad enough when journalists tell everyone that you are legally double-billing the public. It's completely unacceptable when a professor mentions it in a political science class on the state budget. Golly, that requires some serious action, like putting a jackboot through nine-hundred years of academic freedom.

Sheriff Larkin is of course a mere piker compared to a Third World thug-with-a-badge, but he's clearly trying hard to catch up. Perhaps he could watch the Egyptian police show him how it's done with pro-transparency and pro-democracy folks like Wael Abbass. Then, maybe Sheriff Larkin could get his macho on and crash the Trenton Times to set that journo Anthony Coleman straight. He's the one that revealed that public information in the first place, after all.

Then again, let's give Sheriff Larkin the benefit of the doubt. He may not be all that familiar with a thing called the "law," which he presumably swore to uphold as an elected county official. There are some uncomfortable old ideas to be found there, like "freedom of speech," and actual limits on police abuse of the public power. On the plus side, however, one actually has the ability to bring suits for slander and libel, so you don't have to march in and humiliate people in front of their students. Of course, what's the fun in a thoughtful e-mail, when you and an aide can pull a professor outside for a few thoughtful words?

A few more Poor Choice Awards can be passed out in this incident. First, it was reported that the huffy Sheriff Larkin was alerted to Prof. Glass's words by a texting student. A very bright student, indeed. Congrats, you just got your professor publicly shaken down.

Second, Mercer County's President Dr. Patricia Donohue heard from Larkin, who called her to complain about the professor he publicly intimidated and threatened. She wants to get all the facts about what happened in the classroom before taking action. All the facts? Could the professor really ever have needed some public wising up? How about an investigation ... of Larkin? Come to think of it, how about getting Larkin to actually retire, since he's already getting the pension?

Dr. Donohue instead referred the matter to Jose Fernandez, Mercer's Executive Director of Compliance and Human Resources, who got another complaining call from the thin-skinned Larkin. What did Fernandez do? He had the college start an investigation ... of the professor. Apparently firing is a possibility. Isn't this why they invented tenure? And isn't there some human resources rule about not having cops intimidate and threaten teachers in their own classrooms?

The Beige Award for Not Taking a Stand goes to Elizabeth Bondurant, MCC Professor of Criminal Justice and Retired Plainsboro Police Chief. She was reported to say: "As chief, you have to have very thick skin, you're criticized and second-guessed. You've got to stand by your decisions." Unfortunately, Prof. Bondurant added that "in her class controversial topics are 'covered, absolutely, they're more on topics though, not individuals.'" So Prof. Bondurant, is it ever OK for those talked-about public figures to take a little "direct action"? A little clarity and vocal defense of academic freedom should have been de rigueur here, one would think.

Finally, however, an Award for the Correct Answer goes to Dr. Robin Schore, Dean of the Liberal Arts Division, who affirmed that the event "has a chilling effect on free speech." Schore added that "[i]t's antithetical to free speech, free academia, and ... America. The idea of having a police presence challenging a professor and taking him out of class is something seen in a police state. It's outrageous."

Indeed! But watch out Dr. Schore – Sheriff Larkin may come looking for you next! Or is that only when you mention him by name? It's so confusing when one guy takes over the joint and doesn't say what ticks him off enough to come after you. Perhaps Sheriff Larkin could let us know what's permitted in his Mercer County? He wouldn't tell the MCC College Voice. Maybe he likes to keep people guessing. And maybe that's just how he likes it.