Howard University will rehire a white faculty member it was found to have wrongfully dismissed and will pay him $125,000 plus legal fees, according to to a consent judgment filed yesterday in federal court.
Michael R. Winston, the university's vice-president for academic affairs, said Howard had proposed rehiring Antonio Planells as an associate professor of Spanish with tenure because "we felt this was an instance of a miscarriage of justice at a departmental level that is inconsistent with our principles and our history."
Earlier, the university had strenuously fought Planells' suit, which was brought under federal antidiscrimination laws. In a memorandum filed just before trial in May, university lawyers argued that as a predominantly black institution, Howard could "take race in consideration" in hiring and promoting professors.
That contention was strongly rejected by U.S. District Court Judge John H. Pratt, who ruled that Howard had given "disparate treatment" to whites in its Romance language department and had promoted blacks with with lesser qualifications than Planells.
In a separate discrimination lawsuit, a federal court jury awarded $60,000 in March to Gabrielle Turgeon, another white teacher ousted from Howard's Romance language department.
Two weeks ago U.S. District Court Chief Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr. ordered the university to reinstate Turgeon in her job. Winston said university lawyers were now negotiating to carry out that directive.
"I always think that when justice is done it is good for everyone concerned," said Winston, a scholar of Afro-American history who became academic affairs vice-president in mid-May.
"There's been a great strain on the faculty members and a great strain on the institution. The sooner disputes of this kind are resolved the better."
Bruce Frerickson, attorney for Planells, said his client is "thrilled" by the judgment, which was signed by Pratt and lawyers for the two sides.
He said Planells, 46, now teaches in a small private high school in New Mexico and is "enthusiastic" about returning to Howard this fall.
"There seems to have been a real change in Howard's outlook on these cases," Fredrickson said. "That's fantastic."
Winston described as "an aberration" the argument university lawyers had made that Howard was subject to a "different legal standard" than predominantly white colleges under antidiscrimination laws.
"For more than 100 years we have been a successful multiracial enterprise, even in times of great racial stress," Winston said. "That is our heritage."
Winston said Howard has a "dual nature . . . . We focus on the concerns of blacks but we are a university that is open to all who share that concern regardless of their background."
He said Howard was a black university much the same way that Georgetown is a Catholic university and Brandeis is Jewish.
"Each has a special constituency," he explained, "but we belong to the community of universities and it is in the nature of a true university to be open."
In his opinion last month, Pratt said that when Planells, who holds a doctorate from Catholic University, came to Howard as an assistant professor in 1976, the Romance language department had a 14-to-12 black majority.
Because of "racially premised decision-making," Pratt said, the balance shifted to 24 blacks and eight whites after Plannels left in 1980, even though blacks hold less than 10 percent of the advanced degrees in the field.
According to reports filed with the U.S. Education Department, whites make up 19.7 percent of Howard's total faculty, compared with 39.8 percent at predominantly black colleges nationwide.
Blacks account for about 4 percent of American scholars with PhD degrees, the normal credential for university teaching.