Westbury’s Dobrin alleges age discrimination, contract breach
Emeritus is an honorific commonly associated with retired college professors, but there is nothing retiring about Arthur Dobrin of Westbury.
A full professor at Hofstra University for most of 32 years, Dobrin has for the past decade taught at least one and sometimes two media ethics classes at the campus as an adjunct. They are required for the various degree paths at the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication.
But his association with the institution may have come to an end after his lawyer, Thomas F. Liotti of Garden City, filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) “alleging a breach of contract, age discrimination and a failure to accommodate his medical condition during this pandemic by not allowing him to teach his students remotely by Zoom.”
When the university closed down in March under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s emergency orders, Dobrin related, his class transitioned to Zoom.
“It was much better than I expected,” Dobrin, 77, said. “And we finished out the semester. I was delightfully surprised. It was not as good as in-person teaching, but much better than I anticipated.”
His classes are usually capped at 30 students, Dobrin noted.
According to the narrative he wrote for the EEOC:
“I was scheduled to teach one of three media ethics sections for the fall 2020 semester. After creating the syllabus, arranging for guest speakers and communicating with students who were already registered for my section, I was informed that the course must be taught in-person.
“I proposed that my section be a distance learning class. That was rejected our of hand, although my spring class successfully had ended on Zoom. The at-distance alternative would not be discussed. A medical accommodation was irrelevant. This is an unreasonable and unethical stance. My class was one of three sections on media ethics and it could have presented as the section for those students who would choose not to return to campus.”
Dobrin said he was informed weeks before the semester began that he was required to teach in person.
“My cardiologist said, ‘You’re crazy. You’re not going back into the classroom. You shouldn’t be doing this, not at your age.’ So I said to [the department] ‘I’ll do it remote. It worked reasonably well in the spring.’ They said, ‘Nope. Sorry, no discussion possible.’” Dobrin stated.
Asked if his experience was unique, Dobrin revealed that another colleague faced similar circumstances, but was not interested in pursuing charges with the EEOC, hoping to “keep the door open” with the institution.
“It would have been perfectly reasonable for the university to say, ‘Even though we prefer having you in person, we can make an exception for one of three sections,’” Dobrin observed. “And there may be many students who would prefer to do it this way, who otherwise may not even get back to the campus—who knows? So it would have been an accommodation for those students who wanted it. And it would have meant that I could have continued to teach. For me it’s a matter of principle.”
Asked if he would ever teach again at Hofstra, Dobrin replied, “It may be that they will not have a need for me. Or if they do have a need they might say, ‘Look, he’s lost his place on the [line].’ I have no idea. I love teaching, and I like being in the classroom, but again, the point wasn’t if I was or wasn’t going to teach the class. The point was, you don’t get rid of people this way. For me, it’s a matter of principle.”
He added, “I’m friends with a number of colleagues. One friend was more outraged than I was. He said, ‘What? How can they do that?’ He thought it was totally unconscionable.”
Liotti commented, “Hopefully, Hofstra is going to come to its good senses here. ”
“Why do you feel you can win your case?” Liotti was asked.
“For a number of reasons,” he replied. “There are all kinds of precedents around the country now, teaching virtually, including at Harvard and elsewhere. It’s the way to go. And when you have a professor who’s been teaching at Hofstra for  years and he’s got a pre-existing medical condition that would really prevent him from being on site, so to speak, to teach his students directly. He’s done remote teaching before at Hofstra and it was approved and there were no complaints.”
Liotti added, “Arthur is a veteran teacher and he’s loved by his students. So this development was really shocking. It was really unfair to him after all his service to Hofstra. And he’s the former leader of the Ethical Humanist Society and published 30 books. The guy is brilliant and is plugged into the community and has done a lot for everybody.”
The attorney also filed a complaint with the state Commission on Human Rights.
In a statement announcing the lawsuit, Liotti, who is also Village of Westbury Justice, said, “I’ve know Arthur and Lyn Dobrin for 50 years and they are not litigious people. They are, however, very principled, ethical people who feel that the actions by the university in this instance are unfair to him, all faculty and his students.”
Karla Schuster, assistant vice president at the Office of University Relations, said the university could not comment on the complaint.
“I love being in the classroom. I love being around young people. I find it stimulating. I think I have something to offer. If you look at the Rate My Professor [website] you’ll see I [got good marks.] It was all a plus,” Dobrin concluded.
Charges of discrimination against Hofstra University:
I, Arthur Dobrin, am a professor emeritus of university studies at Hofstra University, with 32 years of service at Hofstra.
I am also the leader emeritus of the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island.
I am filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Hofstra University for breach of contract and discrimination for their refusal to consider a medical accommodation based upon an underlying medical condition at my age, 77.
I was scheduled to teach one of three media ethics sections for the fall 20202 semester. After creating the syllabus, arranging for guest speakers and communicating with students who were already registered for my section, I was informed that the course must be taught in-person.
I proposed that my section be a distance learning class. That was rejected our of hand, although my spring class successfully had ended on Zoom. The at-distance alternative would not be discussed. A medical accommodation was irrelevant. This is an unreasonable and unethical stance. My class was one of three sections on media ethics and it could have presented as the section for those students who would choose not to return to campus.
Hofstra allows student to opt our of distance learning, but they have not offered that option to me, despite the explicit letter from my physician stating that I should not be in a classroom in the fall.
Many teachers fear returning to the classroom, and to its credit, Hofstra has worked hard to make the campus as safe as possible. However, it is not advisable for everyone to return. Faculty shouldn’t be given less considerations than that given to students.
I am asking Hofstra University to not put economic interests ahead of the safety and lives of its faculty. I have given years of service to then university and have demonstrated the feasibility of providing a good education through remote learning.