Saint Rose music teachers sue to keep cut jobs in crisis

ALBANY – Four of the dozen professors who received notice of dismissal in December 2020 by the College of Saint Rose are suing to get their jobs back.

A lawyer for the four music teachers filed a lawsuit on their behalf with the Albany County Supreme Court on Thursday, accusing the small private school of being arbitrary and capricious and of committing serious violations of internal policy by them. letting go.

The complaint seeks reinstatement with arrears of salary and benefits.

Saint Rose declined to comment on Thursday evening, stating via email:

“The Order has not yet received service of this petition and this complaint. Until we are served and have a chance to review all of the documents, we will not comment. “

The layoffs were announced at the end of a very difficult year for struggling US colleges amid the COVID pandemic.

Saint Rose said in December 2020 that it would eliminate 33 full and tenure-track professors and not renew the contracts of eight full-time visiting professors as of December 2021. It also said it would cut 16 undergraduate programs. , six master’s programs and three certificates. programs.

The cuts would yield nearly $ 6 million in savings, he said.

The four plaintiffs, who rely heavily on the college’s alleged violations of its own formal procedures in their arguments, say Saint Rose has not declared or demonstrated the financial demands that would justify their dismissal.

Legal documents state and allege that:

  • Applicants Yvonne Chavez Hansbrough, Robert Hansbrough and Bruce Roter are full professors who have been teaching music since 2008, 1999 and 1998, respectively; Applicant Sherwood Wise has been a Full Associate Professor and Professor of Music since 2012.
  • The four have their own specialties and each is qualified to teach in the four majors previously offered by the music department.
  • Saint Rose fired them in violation of its own procedures, using inaccurate and inadequate information, while retaining lower-ranking members of the department with less seniority, some of them not incumbent.
  • The college faculty manual spells out the procedures and circumstances for faculty termination and states that there are two circumstances that allow staff reduction through layoffs: anticipated program cuts and urgency. financial. The college must try all reasonable alternatives before dismissal and it must give preference on the basis of tenure, seniority and rank.
  • Faculty members threatened with dismissal have the right to appeal and the results of their formal hearing must be reviewed by committees.
  • Saint Rose told faculty the college was struggling financially, but never declared a financial requirement, explaining it would be a public relations issue. It also did not release data to support the claim that a financial emergency existed.
  • In September 2020, the music department submitted a proposal signed by Wise, its president, containing additional revenue streams and $ 560,000 in cost reductions. Wise met with a joint working group to review the proposal.
  • For years, there was a well-known tension between the professors who taught in the Music Industry concentration and the rest of the music department.
  • Unbeknownst to Wise and his fellow plaintiffs, the music industry subgroup drafted a secret counter-proposal to gut the music department and submitted it to the joint task force after the presentation. by Wise.
  • This proposal is not from the music department and has not been approved by the music department faculty as required by the faculty manual.
  • The joint working group did not interview any members of this second group of underground professors in the music department.
  • The counter-proposal called for the elimination of the entire music department, except for the concentration of the music industry, a move that would result in the elimination of all music faculties except those who had made the counter-proposal.
  • The counter-proposal provided for savings but offered no explanation of how the savings were calculated.
  • The joint task force, citing financial savings, recommended closing three of the four degrees offered in the music department and retaining the Bachelor of Science degree with a concentration in the music industry.
  • Every member of the music department who had not resigned or retired received a termination notice, except those who taught music industry courses.
  • The four plaintiffs were informed on December 8 that they would be fired on December 29, 2021. All but one of the music industry teachers were subordinate to the four plaintiffs.
  • The employment contract between the college and the applicants incorporates the terms of the faculty manual, which the college did not follow, so it broke the contract
  • To this day, the music industry’s counter-proposal has not been adopted by Saint Rose, and the college still offers students the courses taught by the plaintiffs. The compulsory courses for music majors have not changed
  • All four plaintiffs appealed their dismissal and requested data from the college, but did not receive the data.
  • The faculty review board supported the plaintiffs’ appeal, concluding that the dismissals were not justified and that the college had violated procedures in proceeding with them.
  • The faculty’s review committee submitted its findings to Acting President Marcia White, who on May 21, 2021, dismissed their recommendations and the complainants’ objections.
  • White’s determination that the college is currently facing extraordinary financial circumstances that justify the termination of tenured professors is not supported by substantial evidence; The college has not released all of the financial reports required by its acceptance of more than $ 3.4 million in federal COVID grants.

The plaintiffs seek the annulment of their dismissal and seek the award of lost wages and benefits, plus costs and any other relief that the court deems fair.

Contact John Cropley at [email protected], 518-395-3104 or @cropjohn on Twitter.

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Corina C. Butler

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