By Shianna Gibbons
An arbiter determined Dec. 9 that Youngstown State University wrongfully retrenched Steven Reale and Randall Goldberg, two Dana School of Music professors.
The arbiter, Jay Nadelbach, wrote in his decision that the YSU administration had failed to uphold multiple sections of Article 13 Retrenchment of Faculty in the collective bargaining agreement. The arbiter awarded the reinstatement of both professors and back pay for any loss of wages.
While Reale is back on campus teaching music theory courses, he stated he has yet to see any payment for his lost wages from YSU. Goldberg is to be awarded any lost wages but has taken a new job. YSU’s legal affairs office declined to comment until the settlement was finalized.
In October 2021, Dana School of Music faculty were given notice that the Office of the Provost and the dean of Cliffe Creative Arts College decided to sunset the music theory and music history and literature programs. In November of 2021, Reale and Goldberg were told they would be retrenched.
Reale said the faculty of the school of music put together an objection to the sunset of the programs and faculty retrenchment.
“We outlined what we saw as being the prime contract violations. If [they] were going to retrench in these conditions, [they] are violating the contract in at least three places. So we told the university in this document, and the university continued to move forward with the retrenchment,” Reale said.
From there, Reale said he put together an appeal document stating the same three violations of Article 13, but that administration was going to move forward. Reale filed a grievance, which had a hearing in January 2022, then moved to arbitration.
“By the time we went into arbitration, the university had already been told on three different occasions why they were violating procedure and moving forward,” Reale said.
Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez, chair of the YSU-OEA grievance committee, said arbitration is sometimes necessary but can be costly and time-consuming.
“What happens in our process is that there is no separation, because [YSU administration is] judge and jury at the same time. So in order to get an external set of eyes as it were, on the complaint, we have to go through these various steps, and then go to arbitration, which is costly, which is very time-consuming,” Palmer-Fernandez said.
Three days of hearings for testimony and evidence were presented to Nadelbach from July 25 to July 27, 2022, by the YSU administration and YSU-OEA.
According to the arbiter’s report, YSU argued that the decision to retrench faculty was to maintain financial stability given the decline in student enrollment. The arbiter’s report also stated that the decision to retrench faculty was, “reasonable and acceptable under the totality of the circumstances.”
However, Nadelbach stated that YSU did violate three articles of 13.2 in the collective bargaining agreement.
First, the arbiter’s report stated that the YSU retrenchment committee failed to acknowledge the priority hierarchy of faculty when it made the decision to retrench outlined in 13.2(a).
Secondly, Nadelbach stated YSU failed to “make every effort” to relocate the extra faculty.
“Ostensibly, YSU would have me accept the self-serving general representation that its committee looked at other positions, both before and after the retrenchments, and reasonably determined that the Grievants simply had to be let go because they were not qualified to teach other Dana School of Music courses. I find that level of effort to be unacceptable given the article 13.2(e) requirements,” Nadelbach stated.
Lastly, Nadelbach stated YSU’s decision to keep faculty members with less seniority over Reale and Goldberg was “simply unconvincing and improbable.”
Reale said arbiters typically try to come to a middle-ground decision, but this was not the case.
“There’s a saying that if both sides walk away unhappy, then that’s probably the right call. But that’s not what happened here. The arbitrator found uniformly in our favor and on every charge that we made,” Reale said.
Reale said teaching is his passion and he is thrilled to be back in the classroom, but YSU’s administration violated the community’s trust.
“This has been a catastrophically bad decision, and to my knowledge, no one in administration has been held accountable for it,” Reale said. “YSU’s administration holds a real position of trust within the Mahoning Valley to be the best possible stewards of this university — which is the crown jewel of the region. The arbiter’s finding has shown that the administration has grievously violated that trust and anyone who cares deeply for YSU should be deeply troubled by that.”
In a press release, YSU-OEA President Mark Vopat stated YSU-OEA was happy to welcome back the Dana School of Music professors and to continue working to provide for and protect diverse programs at YSU.
“We do not want to see any more faculty put through this long, damaging process of appeals and arbitrations. We want to focus our attention and resources on strengthening our programs, not building defenses against unjust terminations,” Vopat stated.
In a statement given by Ron Cole, YSU’s spokesperson, YSU would abide by the arbiter’s decision.
“We have received, read and will abide by the arbitrator’s decision. The ruling, however, does not change the financial realities facing YSU. The arbitrator himself conceded that retrenchment of faculty is a necessity given the university’s economic condition, and he noted that even the faculty union did not disagree with the need for faculty retrenchments. We will continue to operate the university in a financially responsible and prudent manner that ensures a sustainable future for YSU, our students and our community,” Cole stated.