Upholding university standards

Arbitrator’s decision contradicts university principles

By TNH Editorial Staff
On November 22, 2013

In this issue of The New Hampshire, the decision by Independent Arbitrator Gary D. Altman on the case between Spanish professor Marco Dorfsman and the University of New Hampshire was officially announced: Dorfsman, who was terminated by former Provost John Aber for tampering with student evaluations, will be allowed to stay on as a member of the UNH faculty. Now, the university and Dorfsman must go back and determine another form of discipline for his misconduct.

From a legal standpoint, there is only so much the university can do. Dorfsman and UNH have 30 days to agree upon an alternative form of punishment for tampering with lecturer Emilie Talpin's student evaluations. If not, the process of arbitration begins once more. 

For the UNH community, the decision reached by Altman can only be viewed as a disappointment.

It is a disappointment because it overturned the strong, no-nonsense stance former-Provost John Aber took when he terminated Dorfsman for moral turpitude - a charge which can vary in its precise meaning. Dorfsman was a man who, during an emotionally tumultuous period in his personal life, decided that the best course of action to take was to alter the evaluations of a colleague of his.

This is a decision that should not be taken lightly, as Talpin's career and life could have been altered by the decision Dorfsman made in Dec. 2012.

Now, admittedly, the extent to which Talpin's life could have been altered is only up for speculation at this point in time. Dorfsman came clean, and therefore his decision did not have any major effects on Talpin. She is still an employee at UNH.

Aber's decision to terminate Dorfsman on May 7, though, best exemplified the type of ethical standards that UNH tries to uphold not only in its faculty, but also in its students. After all, if a student were to be punished during a moment of great personal struggle, one wouldn't see UNH make an exception because of the circumstances. This appeared to be the standard Dorfsman was being held to, and it was one that saw UNH ethical standards shine through.

Some would say that Dorfsman deserved a second chance. He was, up until the incident, the chair of the Department of Language, Literature and Culture and had been a member of the UNH community since 1997 - when he first started teaching. Surely that, along with his admission of guilt and apology, would be enough to warrant a second chance, right?

If this were a student, though, would the university give him or her a second chance and re-admit him or her after an egregious instance of "moral turpitude?" The answer, in most cases, is probably not - and that student would certainly never be able to "agree" as to his or her punishment. This student would have to live with the decision that he or she made, with no apology being adequate to make up for the fact that a terrible lapse in judgment did occur.

These were factors that Altman did not seem to take into consideration when deciding upon the fate of Dorfsman. The university's task was to prove that moral turpitude occurred - an act that warrants, according to UNH's agreement with the American Association of University Professors, termination. It is apparent that Altman did not feel that the potential alteration of Talpin's status in the academic community was enough grounds for moral turpitude. Thus, the strong stance that Aber and the university made last semester seems to be diminished - a cause for the university community to be disappointed.

Much still is left unanswered in this issue, of course. Whether the university decides to appeal Altman's decision remains to be seen, and if it opts not to, the UNH community is forced to live with the disappointment that not all find academic dishonesty as serious as the university does.

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