I am writing as Prof. Julia Brown's attorney to respond to acting Boston University President Jon Westling's letter of July 13 concerning the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to let stand the lower court's ruling that Prof. Brown was denied tenure at BU because of her sex.
To set the record straight: When Prof. Brown came up for tenure in the English Department at BU in 1979, she received the unanimous support of her department in a vote of 22 to 0. When she came before the College of Liberal Arts faculty appointments, promotion and tenure committee, she again received unanimous support in a vote of 9 to 0. The university-wide appointments, promotion and tenure committee gave her its overwhelming majority support in a vote of 9 to 2 and, in a second vote, reaffirmed its recommendation of immediate tenure by a vote of 10 to 0.
An ad hoc committee of three outside reviewers, formed after BU's provost and president stated their opposition to Prof. Brown being tenured, also voted in her favor, 2 to 1. The two favorable votes came from experts in Prof. Brown's field; the dissenting voter was not an expert in the field and was a longtime personal friend of Boston University President John Silber.
In short, the judge and jury were not asked to "sidestep" the hard facts of Prof. Brown's record but to review her record carefully and to compare it with the voluminous tenure files of similarly situated male faculty members who had been granted tenure. They were asked to consider whether Prof. Brown had been held to ahigher standard than her male contemporaries.
The jury ruled that Prof. Brown had been denied tenure because of her sex. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the judgment unanimously, and defended the right of Prof. Brown to introduce evidence of comments President Silber had made indicating a discriminatory attitude toward women.
In the words of the Court of Appeals: ". . . Brown was recommended for tenure by virtually all of her academic peers, both in her own department and outside. It could be concluded that her academic reputation was superior to many who were tenured. In such circumstances, the district court was entitled to permit plaintiff to focus on the personality and predilections of the president, insofar as these suggested that he held a more traditional view of the woman'splace . . ."
The court also said that "at the time Silber called the English Department a 'damn matriarchy,' it had a female chairman and six other tenured English professors from among a total of 26 tenured English professors. That so small a proportion of women could provoke this comment suggests that the president might not be indifferent to the gender of a tenure applicant."
At the trial, letters in the tenure file from distinguished professors at Yale, Columbia and Princeton were presented in support of Prof. Brown's scholarship. Distinguished professors from Harvard and Brandeis testified as witnesses on her behalf. All were experts in Prof. Brown's discipline, unlike President Silber or Mr. Westling.
Mr. Westling's characterization of Prof. Brown's scholarship as "substandard" is therefore as ill-founded as President Silber's original decision to deny tenure and suggests that even now improper prejudicial factors cloud the BU administration's ability to judge her work. It is regrettable that Mr. Westling has chosen to attack Prof. Brown yet again, on the eve of her return to BU as a tenured associate professor rather than to accept the judgment of the several reviewing courts that it was discrimination, and not a deficiency in scholarship, that stood between Prof. Brown and tenure at Boston University.
DAHLIA C. RUDAVSKY Newton, Mass.