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Ex-Dean Accuses SUNY Campus of Racism

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. (CN) - In a blistering complaint, a professor claims the SUNY College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill removed him from as dean because he objected to the school's policy of recruiting unqualified students, many of them black, solely to get its hands on their tuition, "for the express and admitted purpose of making budget, knowing that these students are not reasonably likely to graduate." He claims black students were fraudulently induced into enrolling so their tuition could "subsidize agricultural programs, which run at an annual deficit," and which "serve white students almost exclusively."

In his federal complaint, Thomas Hickey says he was a tenured professor and Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He claims the campus president and vice president for academic affairs lowered academic standards and admitted students they knew were unlikely to graduate, and even falsified some students' records to make them eligible.

Hickey says he was fired for voicing concerns about the policy, which he says targeted black students.

"The college has taken their tuition for the express and admitted purpose of making budget knowing that these students are not reasonably likely to graduate," Hickey says in his complaint. "These students are known to lack appropriate academic foundation to succeed at the college level without remediation."

He claims the students, with poor academic backgrounds, were not offered sufficient remedial programs.

Hickey claims the school's vice president for academic affairs, defendant Anne Myers, acknowledged and defended the policy in a 1999 memo, saying the college needed the revenue.

A few months after Hickey arrived at SUNY Cobleskill in 2006, he says, he discovered that unqualified students were being admitted by policy. The complaint adds: "The college was using tuition from African-American student to subsidize agricultural programs, which run at an annual deficit, even though these programs serve white students almost exclusively."

He describes the school as somewhat segregated, saying black and white students were "treated as two separate populations having two overlapping but distinctly separate sets of admissions requirements."

When he discussed the matter with Myers, Hickey says, she told him, "I do not care about these people." He says she had previously expressed the view to faculty that the students in question were "not cognitively and genetically prepared to function in college," according to the complaint.

Hickey claims he discovered that a student who earned a B+ in English Composition was functionally illiterate.

He claims Myers changed the school's Academic Review standards by lowering the threshold GPA to 1.0: "On Dec. 2, 2008, Defendant Myers sent an email to the faculty stating that 'in light of the budget, we will use a 1.0 [Grade Point Average] cut off for first semester freshmen for Academic Review.'" And he claims that "as one point, she suspended Academic Review entirely."

Thomas Cronin, a physics professor, responded to Myers' email with one of his own, according to the complaint. It said: "The list of academically and morally corrupt practices that ensue from our inability to adhere to our own standards is rather long. One of our worst offenses is that we admit, and re-admit students absolutely unqualified and absolutely incapable of achieving a college degree. Many go into debt or cause their families to go into debt into [sic] order to attempt a college degree. This is an absolutely corrupt practice and it may be criminal. If we have done this to even one student, then we are guilty of a very low form of corruption."

Hickey claims he told co-defendant Thomas Zingale, who became campus president in April 2008, "that African-American students were being admitted under false pretenses and then being dismissed from the college."

Hickey seeks lost wages and punitive damages for racial discrimination and retaliation. He is represented by Phillip G. Steck with Cooper Erving & Savage in Albany.

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