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Judge: No Foul Play in UDC Tenure Decision

A former law school faculty member at the University of the District of Columbia failed to provide any evidence that gender or race discrimination was responsible for her denial of tenure, a federal judge has ruled.

The decision dismissed a suit against the university and its president by Stephanie Brown, an African-American woman who applied in 2009 for tenure and promotion to full professor. A faculty committee and her dean recommended tenure, but the provost and tenure committee did not. The university then declined to renew her fixed-term contract at the end of the 2011-12 academic year.     

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said Brown “alleges no set of facts beyond threadbare and conclusory assertions from which a reasonable person could infer how her gender or race caused her tenure rejection, as opposed to any other non-discriminatory basis.”

Brown contended that the university subjected her to different review criteria than a White male professor who received tenure in 2010, but Leon found no support for the conclusory allegation that she was equally, if not more qualified” than her White colleague and was “subject to the typical double standard rooted in the history of race discrimination in American jurisprudence.”

The decision noted that the president of UDC is Black and the provost is a woman.

Leon also threw out claims for breach of contract and wrongful termination.

Brown will appeal, according to her attorney, Donald Temple of Washington. A lawyer for the university, Yoora Pak, declined to comment on the case.

Appeals judge rules disability case versus Creighton U. May Proceed

A hearing-impaired medical student who borrowed $11,400 to pay for transcription and interpreter services can pursue his disability discrimination case against Creighton University, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The panel reinstated a suit by Michael Argenyi, who has a severe, life-long hearing loss.

While Argenyi was an undergraduate, Seattle University provided a Communication Access Real-time Transcription (CART) system, and he earned a 3.87 GPA. But Creighton officials repeatedly denied most of the accommodations that he requested, including a CART system, and refused to let him use an interpreter in clinical courses, even if he personally paid the interpreter.

He sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act, claiming that, without the requested accommodations, he couldn’t properly handle lectures, labs and clinical work. Although he passed all his first- and second-year courses, he took a leave of absence until the dispute is resolved.

A lower-court judge in Nebraska had dismissed the case.

But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it, citing “strong evidence” from medical experts for trial that the university’s accommodations were inadequate.

“At this stage the record supports Argenyi’s claim that he was unable to follow lectures and classroom dialogue or successfully communicate with clinical patients,” Judge Diana Murphy wrote for the unanimous panel. “A reasonable factfinder could determine that Argenyi was denied an opportunity to benefit from medical school equal to that of his nondisabled classmates.”

In a short statement, Creighton said it has petitioned the court for a rehearing, and, “until the court has ruled on the petition, there is nothing that can be said regarding the matter.”

The Justice Department, National Disability Rights Network and two other advocacy groups filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting Argenyi.

In a statement after the decision, the National Association for the Deaf said, “While the case is not over, reversal and remand on appeal is an important victory that will help students achieve meaningful access to higher education.” The organization’s CEO, Howard Rosenblum, said, “This case further defines what it means to receive access. Not only must entities promote inclusion, entities must provide meaningful access.”

Howard U. victorious in tenure fight

Howard University has won another round in a lawsuit challenging its denial of promotion and tenure to an assistant professor of political science.

The university hired Dr. Louis Wright Jr. as a lecturer in 1988. In 2001, he received the first of a series of two-year tenure-track, probationary appointments. When he applied for tenure in 2006, he had not published any books, book chapters or peer-reviewed articles in 10 years, although he later had one journal article accepted.

Although the department committee and chair, as well as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, supported tenure, the president rejected Wright.

His suit accused Howard of breach of contract and acting in bad faith, including allegations that the university failed to properly evaluate him or provide specific tenure criteria.

A trial court judge threw out the case.

In upholding that decision, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals said Wright waited too long to bring his breach-of-contract claim.

As for bad faith, the panel said, “A claim that a university breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in making employment decisions involving faculty members implicates the principle of academic freedom.

“Although Dr. Wright did provide evidence of apparent inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the review process, the picture he paints is one of inadvertence and forgetfulness, not bad faith or the degree of unfair conduct necessary,” it said.

Finally, the court said Wright apparently misunderstands the tenure process. “The question whether a faculty member should be granted tenure depends on context and will necessarily involve subjective, qualitative judgments,” and it’s not enough to merely meet the university’s minimum requirements.

Kerry-Ann Hamilton of Howard’s communications and marketing office said it is university policy not to talk about litigation or personnel matters.

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