Former professor's discrimination appeal dismissed

On Feb. 11, the appellate division of the Supreme Court of New York, Fourth Division, dismissed an appeal by former communication professor Yu Zhang contesting an earlier decision, which favored the college.

Zhang alleged that he was illegally discriminated against when he was denied tenure.A non-United States born Chinese, he originally brought a case to the Monroe County Supreme Court on July 16, 2008 against President Christopher Dahl and SUNY Geneseo alleging unlawful discrimination for not granting him tenure and retaliation against his filing of the complaint. At that time, the court ruled that the college had sufficiently rebutted Zhang's claims by presenting nondiscriminatory reasons to support its decision.

New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo represented Dahl and the college in the original case. "[SUNY and Geneseo] calculated and predicted that it is the name and the status of Andrew Cuomo, not the merit of the case, that would ultimately determine the result of the case," Zhang's appeal states.

The appeal continues, "The Court would not embarrass Andrew Cuomo and his office, and would not let him lose to a non-attorney and non-American."

Zhang's appeal also faulted the Division of Human Rights for failing to make a determination and serve an order within 180 days after the commencement of the initial hearing. The appellate court found that such guidelines "are directory rather than mandatory, and in any event petitioner has not demonstrated substantial prejudice as a result of the minimal delays."

Employed at the college from 2001 to 2008, Zhang contended that his teaching was rated as "good" or "very good" seven out of the eight years that he received evaluation; he was rated "fair" in 2004. The appeal also cited a series of positive evaluations of his performance from colleagues and then-department chair Mary Mohan.

"[The] petitioner's department, similar in size, age and discipline to the departments of anthropology, sociology and others, has never granted tenure to, nor promoted any foreign born or any minority professors since its inception in the 1960s," the appeal states.

Zhang contended in part that he was penalized for having an accent and that his ethnic background may have influenced the SOFI scores he received. During cross-examination, Geneseo's Director of Institutional Research Julie Meyer Rao allegedly stated that the SOFI query does not employ "questions or other safeguards that would identify correlations between students with discriminatory attitudes toward non-U.S. born individuals and the impact of those attitudes upon the scores."

In a 1998 discrimination case, theatre and dance professor Randy Kaplan claimed that she was denied renewal of her teaching contract because she was a woman; she won the case and the college was ordered to reinstate her contract due to "significant errors" on the part of the College Faculty Personnel Committee.