Four Saint Rose professors win reinstatement; college to appeal ruling

The College of Saint Rose's Centennial Hall on Madison Avenue in Albany is shown in this undated photo from the college's website.

The College of Saint Rose's Centennial Hall on Madison Avenue in Albany is shown in this undated photo from the college's website.

ALBANY — Four faculty members have won reinstatement after taking The College of Saint Rose to court over the manner of their termination.

The college said Thursday it will appeal Tuesday’s state Supreme Court ruling but will rehire the professors in the interim.

The four were among dozens of faculty given termination notices in December 2020 as Saint Rose, like many other U.S. colleges, was struggling with the financial impact of the COVID pandemic.

The small liberal arts school said at the time it would eliminate 33 tenured and tenure-track faculty and not renew the contracts of eight full-time visiting faculty effective December 2021. It also said it would cut 16 bachelor’s degree programs, six master’s degree programs and three certificate programs.

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

Plaintiffs Yvonne Chavez Hansbrough, Robert Hansbrough and Bruce Roter are tenured full professors who’ve been music professors since 2008, 1999 and 1998, respectively; plaintiff Sherwood Wise is a tenured associate professor and a professor of music since 2012.

In their legal arguments, they relied heavily on the college’s alleged violations of its own formal procedures and said Saint Rose hadn’t declared or demonstrated the financial exigencies that would justify their termination.

They sought reinstatement with back pay and benefits.

The matter distills down to whether the college gave preference to other faculty with the intent of eliminating the four professors, in violation of tenure, seniority and rank considerations laid out in the College Faculty Manual. The college’s erroneous interpretation of the manual appears to have been intended to eliminate the four professors and cannot stand, Judge Peter A. Lynch wrote in his decision.

He also noted that the Faculty Review Committee on several points faulted the decision to terminate the four professors. 

“Had the College adopted the FRC recommendation, that would have ended the matter,” Lynch wrote. “It did not!”

He continued that Saint Rose’s defenses against the professors’ complaint “lack merit and are patently frivolous.”

Roter said via email Thursday: 

“It has been a long and arduous process and to say we feel vindicated is an understatement. We are grateful for the overwhelming support we’ve received from students, alumni, parents, colleagues, and this community.”

In a prepared statement Thursday, Saint Rose said:

“The College is disappointed by the court’s decision. We are confident in the integrity of our process and will file an appeal. Until the matter can be heard by the appellate court, the College will comply with the court’s decision in this employment matter. The court’s decision does not change the program reductions that were announced in December 2020 as part of a collaborative plan to build a sustainable future for Saint Rose.”

In an internal campus memo, the college administration said the ruling does not affect the termination of the other faculty members who lost their jobs and will not result in the return of the programs that were eliminated.

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