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Long Island University v. C.W. Post Collegial Federation

September 27, 2011

LONG ISLAND UNIVERSITY, PETITIONER,
v.
C.W. POST COLLEGIAL FEDERATION, ON BEHALF OF DR. JOELLE SAAD-LESSLER, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hurley, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Petitioner commenced this action as a petition to vacate an arbitration award ("Award") issued on May 12, 2010, pertaining to a decision by the Board of Trustees of Long Island University ("University", "LIU", or "petitioner") not to grant tenure to Dr. Joelle Saad-Lessler ("Saad-Lessler"), a faculty member in the University's Economics Department. The arbitration proceeding was conducted pursuant to the Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA" or "Agreement") entered into between LIU and respondent C.W. Post Collegial Federation ("Union" or "Respondent"), Saad-Lessler's union.*fn1 Jurisdiction over this action exists under section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185, et seq.. Before the Court is the original petition, respondent's combined opposition and motion to confirm the arbitration award, and petitioner's opposition/reply. For the reasons that follow, LIU's petition is denied, and the Union's motion to dismiss that petition and to confirm the award of arbitration is granted.

BACKGROUND

I.SAAD-LESSLER'S EMPLOYMENT AND APPLICATIONS FOR TENURE

Saad-Lessler first became a member of the faculty of LIU's Economics Department at the C.W. Post campus during the 2001/2002 academic year. She was recommended for reappointment by her Department in each of the five academic years that followed. During the 2006/2007 academic year, the first year in which she would normally be eligible to apply for tenure, she took maternity leave. To accommodate her pregnancy, and at Saad-Lessler's request, the school stopped the tenure clock during that academic year and designated 2007/2008 as her first year of tenure eligibility. Saad-Lessler then applied for tenure at some point in late 2007.

The procedure for applying for tenure at LIU is governed by Article XII, Section 5 of the CBA. This section provides for a multi-step process in which the Department Personnel Committee ("DPC") and the Chairperson of the Department forward their recommendations to the Dean for review. The recommendations of the Dean, the DPC and the Campus Faculty Personnel Committee ("CFPC") are then all forwarded to the University President, who makes a final recommendation to the Board of Trustees. (CBA, Art. XII §5.)

In response to Saad-Lessler's 2007 application for tenure, the DPC, the Dean and the CFPC all recommended against tenure, citing her strong teaching skills, but ultimately concluding that she would need to increase her publishing efforts before they could favorably recommend her. Academic Vice-President Kane, acting on behalf of the University President, also recommended against her application, determining that she had not met the teaching or scholarship requirements for tenure. He noted that "her colleagues offer positive assessments of her teaching but her student evaluations give one cause for concern," and that at the time of her application, she had only one published, "refereed" article to her credit. (Opinion and Award of Arbitrator Janet M. Spencer dated May 12, 2010 ("Award") at 12.)

Saad-Lessler renewed her application the following year. At that point, she had four additional articles either published or accepted for publication in peer-reviewed journals. (Award at 13.) This time, the Department Chair, the DPC, the Dean, and the CFPC all concluded that Saad-Lessler had met the teaching and scholarship criteria and recommended that she be granted tenure. Kane, however, disagreed. He wrote that although her teaching and research activity had shown "good recent progress, . . . her record as a whole lacks the level of achievement as a researcher and as a teacher to merit tenure." (Award at 16-17.) He therefore declined to recommend her for tenure to the Board of Trustees, who ultimately decided against her application. Saad-Lessler's request for appointment for an additional "discretionary year" in 2009/2010 was also denied. Saad-Lessler then moved to arbitrate her denial under Article XXII, Section 4(c) ("section 4(c)") of the CBA.

II.RELEVANT PROVISIONS OF THE CBA

The two portions of the CBA relevant to Saad-Lessler's arbitration proceedings are as follows:

1. Article XII, Section 5 -- Procedures for Determining Eligibility for Tenure

a) The responsibility for evaluating candidates for tenure shall rest with the Department Personnel Committee, the Department Chairperson, the Dean, the Campus Faculty Personnel Committee and the Administration.

b) Every faculty member who meets the eligibility criteria shall receive fair and impartial evaluation by the appropriate committee(s), under previously authorized and published criteria appropriate to the discipline (as required by Article VI, Peer Evaluation -Faculty Personnel Committees).

c) The tenure recommendations of the Departmental Personnel Committee and of the Chairperson shall be forwarded for review and recommendation to the appropriate Dean, whose recommendation shall be based on evidence of merit in the personnel file.

d) The tenure recommendations of the Department Personnel Committee, the Chairperson and the Dean's recommendation shall be forwarded to the Campus Faculty Personnel Committee for review and recommendation. The Committee's consideration shall be based on evidence of merit in the personnel file and the department's and Dean's recommendations.

e) The tenure recommendations of the Department Personnel Committee, the Chairperson, the Dean and the Campus Faculty Personnel Committee shall be forwarded to the President, who shall prepare the final recommendation for the Board of Trustees. The President and his/her designee shall meet with the Campus Faculty Personnel Committee to discuss any disagreement(s) with the Committee's recommendation(s) before the President's final recommendation is presented to the Board of Trustees. The President's recommendation shall be reasonably based on evidence of merit in the personnel file and institutional needs as they affect the determination of tenure.

f) Board of Trustees' action on tenure recommendations shall be reasonably based on the evidence of merit in the personnel file, institutional needs as they affect the determination of tenure, and the faculty and Administration judgments stated in the recommendations.

(CBA at 56-58.)

2. Article XXII, Section 4(c)

Arbitrability of any grievance involving appointment, reappointment, promotion, or tenure shall be limited solely to procedural issues. The Arbitrator shall not be authorized to review the merits of the academic judgment of the faculty and Administration or substitute his/her judgment therefor. (CBA at 138-39.)

III.THE ARBITRATION AWARD

On May 12, 2010, the appointed Arbitrator, Janet M. Spencer, Esq., issued an opinion and award resolving the following issues stipulated by the Union and LIU: "Whether Long Island University failed to grant tenure to Dr. Joelle Saad-Lessler in violation of the collective bargaining agreement. If so, what shall the remedy be?" (Award at 1.) The Arbitrator held that the University did, in fact, violate the CBA in denying Saad-Lessler tenure, but instead of reversing the University's decision, the Arbitrator directed Saad-Lessler to be appointed for a position in the Economics Department for one "discretionary year" beginning in September 2010. (Award at 24.)

As set forth above, under section 4(c) of the CBA, the arbitration of any grievance involving decisions of tenure is limited "solely to procedural issues." The Arbitrator -- cognizant of this circumscribed standard of review -- held that Kane's assessments of Saad-Lessler's teaching and scholarship were both "flawed procedurally" and were ...


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