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Legal battle between College of St. Rose and professors continues

The College of Saint Rose in Albany
The College of Saint Rose in Albany
The College of Saint Rose in Albany

In December 2020, the College of Saint Rose in Albany announced it was cutting several academic degree programs and terminating 33 full-time professors, as part of a move to reduce expenses by nearly $6 million. A legal battle between the college and four of the professors continues.

Four tenured Music Department professors, Sherwood Wise, Yvonne Chavez Hansbrough, Robert Hansbrough and Bruce Roter, sued the private college in response to the firings, claiming St. Rose and its president, Marcia White, violated college policies.

“There was a retrenchment process in 2020, which led to the terminations of over 30 faculty at the college, and I was one of those who was terminated," Roter said. "And I've been at the college for 24 years. And first, we appealed our terminations internally to the Faculty Review Committee, and they actually found in our favor, they found that there were sufficient flaws, to reconsider and to reinstate us. That went up to President Marcia white and she, she rejected the recommendation of the Faculty Review Committee, which left us no other choice, but to sue, which we did."

In December, a New York State Supreme Court judge ruled in the professors' favor, saying the private college failed to adhere to the order of preference outlined in its faculty manual when it laid off the faculty and ordered the college to reinstate them.

Roter says that’s when the college filed an appeal.

"As you can imagine, it is a lengthy process. But at the end of the day, I'm confident that the Supreme Court's decision will be upheld. I believe there is additional paperwork to be filed. But you know, my colleagues and I, we're teaching right now, I love being back in the classroom and that's where I will stay until I hear otherwise," said Roter.

Earlier this month, the four professors filed a memorandum of law requesting that the court order the college to restore Wise back to his position as a vested tenured faculty member in addition to paying fines, attorney fees and court costs. The memorandum acknowledges the college did adhere to the court ruling to reinstate the four professors, but should be held in contempt of court because St. Rose violated their rights as vested tenured faculty members by terminating Wise without respect to process and procedure required by the faculty manual, and refusing to provide them with the annual contract offered to all faculty members.

College spokesperson Jennifer Gish replied to a request for comment via email: "The College of Saint Rose fulfilled the court’s December 2021 order by reinstating Dr. Wise to his faculty position teaching classes on campus, as we had committed to in-person instruction for the students in those classes. However, Dr. Wise chose not to return to campus to teach in person as he has relocated to Georgia. We respect the directive by the court, and will continue to present our case utilizing the judicial process."

Wise is still listed as a faculty member on the college website. Meanwhile Roter says he believes he and the other professors face uncertain futures.

"We have been teaching, but it is disappointing that since being reinstated in December, we've been working without a contract," Roter said. "And this is disappointing, and we believe we deserve a contract like all employees deserve a contract. A contract protects both us and the institution. And this is something that we are also working through with our attorney as well.”

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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