February 7, 2016

Former Associate Professor Loses Tenure Case to Cornell

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The New York State Supreme Court cleared the University for not granting a former associate professor  tenure in a ruling Thursday, according to documents from the court.

The professor, Leslie Weston ’80, horticulture, complained that Cornell did not grant her tenure after she had taught for seven years, which she claimed was in violation of her contract.

However, the court ruled that the wording in Weston’s contract did not necessarily imply she would be granted tenure.

The University appealed the original court ruling in Tompkins County Aug. 2014, in a decision that partially denied Cornell’s request to dismiss Weston’s complaint.

The University originally hired Weston for a five-year term, describing the position as associate professorship “with tenure,” the court documents said. Weston’s contract also stated that “the offer of tenure would have to be confirmed by defendant’s review process shortly after plaintiff’s arrival on campus.”

Weston, however, did not submit her tenure package and delayed the submission for five years “for a variety of reasons,” according to the documents.

When Weston submitted the package in 2003, Cornell extended her hiring term by two years but did not award her tenure. The University called her appointment “‘associate professor with tenure,’ to allow her an opportunity to improve and resubmit her tenure package,” the documents said.

Weston submitted her package for tenure again two years later and was once again denied, which ultimately led to her dismissal from the associate professor position. Weston then appealed to local courts about the University’s breach of contract, according to the court documents.

The State of New York Supreme Court ruled that the letter of offer from the University did not necessarily guarantee Weston’s tenure.

“Contrary to defendant’s argument, Supreme Court properly found that issues of fact exist as to whether defendant’s 1998 offer letter reflects an intent to assure plaintiff that she would be granted tenure,” the documents said.

The University also claimed that Weston’s new contract was modified so that its wording would not be ambiguous regarding her tenure.

“[Cornell’s] 2003 letter offering to extend [Weston’s] appointment unambiguously replaced the ‘with tenure’ language contained in the 1998 offer letter by restating her job title as ‘associate professor without tenure,’” the court documents said.

The court agreed that Weston had fully understood the terms of her new contract.

“[Weston] explicitly acknowledged that she understood the 2003 letter to be a modification of the original terms of her employment agreement and agreed — albeit reluctantly — to the new terms,” the documents said. “Significantly, [Weston] further admitted that [the University] was ‘not guaranteeing [her] tenure in any case after this letter.”

Weston is now a professor of plant biology at Charles Sturt University in New South Wales, according to the Charles Sturt University website.