Suit Says College Singled Out Blacks

Scott Waldman, Times Union (Albany), December 2, 2009

A former dean of the State University of New York at Cobleskill has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the school, saying it discriminated against black students by keeping them in school for their tuition dollars when administrators knew they had no chance of earning a degree.

Thomas Hickey, who was stripped of his position as dean of liberal arts and sciences in July, filed the federal lawsuit on Nov. 23. In it, he claims the school has been admitting students it knows have no likelihood of graduating “for the express and admitted purpose of making budget,” according to court records.

Hickey, who is a tenured professor, said the school targeted black students from the New York City region who did not meet the admissions standards of the college. Hickey said Anne Myers, the school’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, developed the discriminatory policy, knew it was harmful to students and resisted the development of remedial programs that could have given the African-American students in question a chance to succeed.

In the suit, Hickey claims Myers expressed to the faculty that such students were “not cognitively and genetically prepared” to function in the college. Myers told him, “I do not care about these people,” court records show.

Myers consistently lowered the academic threshold so that all students would pass and move on to the next year of study, the suit claims.

Hickey said the academic threshold started at a 2.0 grade point average and then was reduced to 1.0, which Myers said was necessary because of the budget.

The lawsuit cites a response to that move from Thomas Cronin, a physics professor, who wrote that one of Cobleskill’s “worst offenses” was admitting and re-admitting students incapable of achieving a college degree, who subsequently go into debt.

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Phillip Steck, the attorney representing Hickey, said his client has evidence including memorandums, e-mails and witness statements to support his claims. He also said his client can produce a written policy from the school that supports such discrimination.

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In March, a faculty member investigated the claims and found that the school had different admissions requirements for different populations of students, according to the suit. It asserts that black students academic records were falsified to assist in their admission. Hickey, who came to the school in 2006, said Cobleskill was using tuition from black students to subsidize money-losing agricultural programs that cater almost exclusively to white students.

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