A June 26 Post editorial scrambled the significance of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to let stand the lower courts' rulings in the case of a female faculty member who was not awarded tenure by Boston University. That decision invites faculty members disappointed by their colleges' tenure decisions to appeal their cases to juries comprised of individuals who possess no particular competence to judge the value of scholarly work.
It is true that plaintiffs and juries will have to maintain a smoke screen by pretending that such cases are about "impermissible prejudice." But the standards set in this case for permissible "evidence" of "impermissible prejudice" are so loose that practically any remark made by any college administrator in any context can now be taken out of context and woven into a legally admissible yarn about the "underlying" intentions of the college.
The slipperiness of these court decisions accounts for some but not all of the inaccuracies in the editorial. Dr. Brown was not "recommended unanimously by her department and two higher faculty committees," as the editorial says the original jury was told. The University-wide Appointments, Promotion and Tenure Committee voted nine in favor, two opposed, and four members not voting. The special review committee, comprised of distinguished scholars from outside the university, was neither unanimous nor uncritical of Dr. Brown's scholarship. Nor is it true that John Silber "has never overturned any comparably unanimous tenure recommendation." The trial record made it abundantly clear that he had not recommended tenure for male faculty members who had been unanimously recommended by both their departments and by their college committees.
Without exception, the hard evidence in the Brown case -- the record of the actual numbers of women and men who were promoted to tenure under John Silber's administration, and the scarcity and uneven quality of Dr. Brown's scholarly work -- supports the university's contention that it did not illegally discriminate against Dr. Brown. The jury, however, was invited to sidestep the evidence and consider instead a wide range of indirect clues that inaccurately portrayed the university as hostile to women faculty members.
The American Council on Education, representing more than 1,500 colleges and universities, joined with Boston University in asking the Supreme Court to review that lower court decision. It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court declined to do so. Its failure will further erode the ability of higher education in this country to exercise any serious quality control over the appointment, promotion and tenure of faculty members. The immediate effect is that the English Department at Boston University must absorb a single faculty member who has a substandard scholarly record. But the ultimate losers will be students at colleges and universities throughout the country who will more often be taught by individuals who would have been able to pass a pre-Brown tenure review. JON WESTLING Interim President, Boston University Boston