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July 23, 2013

Court nixes Cobleskill admissions suit

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — State University at Cobleskill Acting President Debra Thatcher said Monday that she was “thrilled” that a federal court jury has determined there is “no factual basis” to claims by tenured professor Thomas Hickey that the college has racially discriminatory admissions policies.

“We are particularly proud of our student success rates,” Thatcher said in a statement, noting the student retention rate at the campus is 63 percent even though many students many students plan short-term stays before transferring.

Hickey, the owner of the Cooperstown Hawkeyes baseball team and a former dean at the Cobleskill campus, said despite the verdict, he believes his lawsuit demonstrates that Cobleskill is profiting by routinely accepting students who have no chance of succeeding.

“They are using these students to make their budget,” said Hickey, who presented data at the trial that suggested a large number of African American students were accepted by the college despite having low Scholastic Aptitude Test scores and low Grade Point Averages in high school. “That, to me, is wrong, and it’s fraud.”

Hickey argued that Cobleskill continued to accept large numbers of students with poor academic backgrounds even after cutting funding for remedial programs designed to help students perform better in the classroom.

Thatcher said in her statement that the college’s “Freshman Experience” program provides incoming students with a road map for success, and that the Educational Opportunity Program and the MERITS program also provide assistance to students who face challenges.

A spokeswoman for the campus administration said she did not immediately know how many students benefit from the programs cited by Thatcher. She also said she did not immediately have access to retention statistics for African American students.

Thatcher said the most recent SUNY Report Card found 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.

Hickey filed his lawsuit in November 2009 against the college and its then-president, Donald P. Zingale, and then-provost, Anne C. Myers.

Reacting to the verdict, Hickey said, “The state’s whole strategy was to kill the messenger, but we stand by what we said: This is a major scam.” He said he believes there is still the potential for former students to wage a class action lawsuit challenging what he says is the practice of admitting students who have no chance for success.

The college was represented by the office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.