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Terminated Music Professors Sue College Of St. Rose

 The College of St. Rose in Albany
The College of St. Rose in Albany

Four former music professors at the College of St. Rose are suing the private college in Albany for breach of contract, claiming the college violated its own policies when it eliminated their tenured positions as part of a round of cuts announced late last year.

An attorney for the professors filed the suit in stateSupreme Court in Albany County Thursday, seeking back pay and benefits, costs, and the revocation of the professors’ termination.

The Article 78 Petition filed by Attorney Meredith Moriarty from the Smith Hoke law firm says the terminations were arbitrary and capricious and violated the college’s own policies.

“The college is required to follow its procedures in the retrenchment process, and we believe it did not follow those procedures,” she said.

The lawsuit also claims the college did not adequately justify its move to reduce expenses by nearly $6 million by eliminating multiple degree programs and 33 full-time professors. That plan was announced in December.

Bruce Roter, a music professor at St. Rose for 23 years, is one of Moriarty’s clients. While declining to comment on the specifics of the case, Roter called the lawsuit “deeply regrettable.”

“While the gravity of our complaint speaks for itself, I will say that it’s deeply regrettable we were forced to take this action against an institution we helped to build,” he said. “Our complaint raises serious concerns, and I know that we look forward to the truth getting out.”

In a summary of the 34-page complaint, Moriarty claims:

-The Music Education program was canceled despite being profitable and having steady enrollment

-St. Rose avoided declaring financial exigency because it was worried about bad p.r.

-Senior members of the music department lost their jobs at the expense of more junior faculty

-Racial considerations, “specifically the ‘whiteness’ of the music being taught by the Petitioners,’ influenced the College’s decision-making process

-St. Rose justified the cuts using old data and withheld “significant financial data” from the petitioners and the public in violation of law

“My clients were long-term professors at the College of St. Rose,” Moriarty said. “The music department is one of the college’s oldest programs. It started the year that the college was formed in 1920. They are long-serving, tenured faculty members that have been terminated and we believe that the college did not follow its own processes and procedures when it did so.”

In a statement to WAMC, the college says it will not comment until it has a chance to review all of the documents. But President Marcia White spoke with WAMC after announcing the cuts in December.

“It was a process, and I think the thing that was important to underscore about the process is it was in unison and collaboration with faculty. We worked with Rep Com which were representatives of the faculty and our administrative team. They analyze data and then they spoke with department chairs. That data made available then to the full faculty and it basically gave revenue. It gave enrollment numbers and recognized the fact that they maintained the integrity of the college and the educational mission,” she said.

White spoke with WAMC again in August after the college announced she will stay on through 2023.

“We're in a much more stable situation,” she said. “What we've done is had the great opportunity to have federal funding, which covered a lot of the COVID expenses and losses. We also have had our “To the Second Century” campaign, and I think that we're in a position where we're trying to also reduce our debt, and [we’re] really evaluating our costs or expenses. We have a three-year financial plan. So we're planning for the future. And we're really evaluating everything we do at Saint Rose. And because we've been able to really evaluate our costs, and increase revenue from fundraising in other areas – I think that's really put us in much better stead.”

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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