A judge has upheld Canisius College’s layoffs of four tenured professors, who sued in response.
“Plaintiffs question defendant’s assertion that there existed a financial exigency as the college never declared their situation as such,” Justice Emilio Colaiacovo said in a transcript of his ruling, posted last month. “In fact, plaintiffs argue that defendants purposefully painted a more vibrant economic forecast to the public and those otherwise interested.”
But Colaiacovo, a New York State Supreme Court justice, said that the Buffalo Jesuit college “was not required to declare financial exigency in order to trigger the language allowing termination under the handbook.”
“It is uncontroverted that Canisius was running a budget deficit that was only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Colaiacovo said. He said the college “had a rational basis for rendering its decision and … it would be error to supplant the judgment of the college with [the court’s] own.”
He also said the professors, who sued in December 2020, over four months after their dismissals, failed to sue in a timely fashion. He granted Canisius summary judgment, dismissing the lawsuit.
The Buffalo News previously reported on the ruling.
Morgan Levy, attorney for the professors, said her clients are appealing. In New York State, the Supreme Court isn’t the highest state court.
“This case can have deep ramifications for tenure in New York State,” Levy told Inside Higher Ed Tuesday. “If there’s the ability of administrations of colleges and universities to eliminate tenured faculty without any procedures articulated or followed, then tenure doesn’t really exist.”
“It does seem the court agreed that you don’t have to prove financial exigency or even declare financial exigency—if the administration says it’s so when it’s convenient to say it’s so, then you can terminate tenured faculty members,” Levy said.
A spokeswoman for Canisius said, “The college doesn’t comment on matters in active litigation.”