ALBANY — In the village of Cooperstown, Tom Hickey is best known as the majority owner of the Cooperstown Hawkeyes baseball team.
This week, though, he’s been going to bat for a cause far removed from the world of sports. In a federal courthouse one block from the State University central headquarters, he has taken center stage in a trial that he says is exposing a gross injustice and exploitation of hundreds of low-income African American students admitted to the SUNY Cobleskill campus in recent years.
Hickey, a tenured professor at the Cobleskill campus and its former dean of liberal arts and the humanities, said the college has been knowingly accepting students with low Scholastic Aptitude Test scores as well as mediocre and poor grade point average from high school, putting them at high risk of flunking out.
“They are admitting kids who have no foreseeable chance of making it,” Hickey told The Daily Star. “They are committing a massive fraud against groups of people, including African Americans, and against the taxpayers of New York and the United States, because some of the kids were getting financial aid.”
In 2009, Hickey initiated his lawsuit against the SUNY Cobleskill and two of its then-administrators after he was stripped of his deanship. He argues he was punished for calling attention to what he says was the administration’s effort to qualify for more state funding by enrolling students who didn’t belong in college.
The students, Hickey argued, could have improved their grades had Cobleskill not slashed approximately 90 percent of the remedial programs it used to offer.
Hickey said he is disappointed that lawyers for the office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are defending the Cobleskill college for carrying out a “scam” that takes advantage of economically-disadvantaged black students.
Contacted by The Daily Star, a Schneiderman spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the fact the trial is underway. A spokeswoman for the campus administration cited the same reason in declining to comment.