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Jury rules in favor of SUNY Cobleskill in whistleblower case
ALBANY -- A jury rules in favor of SUNY Cobleskill against claims made by a former dean that the school had racially discriminatory admission policies and retaliated against him because he wanted to blow the whistle. The plaintiff also claimed the school recruited under performing students just to meet its financial bottom line.
"A lot of these students would be taking out student loans, said Tom Hickey, the plaintiff in the case. A lot of them are from poor backgrounds to begin with.
From the classroom to the courthouse, there are questions over who SUNY Cobleskill wanted in its halls and why.
Those are students that statistically have an extremely low likelihood of graduating, said Phil Steck, a Democrat assemblyman representing Hickey at trial. What makes this particularly problematic is that they admitted doing it in order to make their budget.
Hickey says once he spoke up, he was demoted, while students who would likely never complete degrees continued enrolling, and were offered no remedial help.
They would admit on the order of 1200 freshman and for a second year class there would be approximately 400, Hickey said. The retention rate was very poor.
Hickey says an alarming number of African-American students were among those caught up in the school's lure.
They certainly weren't forthcoming with these kids in telling them, in being realistic about their chances to succeed without remediation, Hickey said.
SUNY Cobleskill released a statement after a jury spent the afternoon deliberating.
Statement by Dr. Debra Thatcher, Acting President, SUNY Cobleskill in response to Federal Court Ruling
"We are thrilled that a federal court jury has unanimously rejected former dean Tomas Hickey's retaliation claims. The jury ruled quickly and decisively that Mr. Hickey's allegations against the college and his claim that he was terminated as dean for allegedly speaking out against what he claimed were racially discriminatory admissions policies have no factual basis. We're proud of SUNY Cobleskill's nearly 100-year record of educating students and preparing them for career success.
SUNY Cobleskill is committed to admitting students with diverse educational and social backgrounds. Our student body reflects the cultural diversity of the Empire State, and our faculty and staff go to exceptional lengths to help students succeed. Our Freshman Experience program provides students with a road map for success beginning with their first day on campus. Special support initiatives such as the Educational Opportunity Program and the MERITS program provide a structured support environment for students who have experienced academic challenges in the past. Students rank our tutoring program among the best in the SUNY system.
Retention statistics quoted by the press are not accurate. Cobleskill's retention rate is 63 percent. It's important to remember that many students enrolling at Cobleskill only plan to stay for one year and then transfer. Cobleskill provides them with the opportunity to experience college success and determine their career path in a small, friendly environment where the faculty are committed to helping them develop their talents. After that first year, some do transfer to another college to pursue an academic major that is not offered at Cobleskill. That's why SUNY and the college focus on student success rates. We are particularly proud of our student success rates. The most recent SUNY Report card indicates that 85 percent of baccalaureate students who begin their academic careers at Cobleskill and 75 percent of associate students earn their college degree from Cobleskill or another SUNY campus. That's outstanding.
I am very proud of our faculty and staff's commitment to student success and their contributions to making SUNY Cobleskill New York's leading college of agriculture and technology."