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Scholar Wins Sex Bias Suit, $200,000 Damages Against Boston University

July 29, 1987

BOSTON (AP) _ A jury has awarded $200,000 to a literature professor who it said was denied tenure by Boston University in 1981 because of her sex.

The U.S. District jury’s award Tuesday was twice what Julia Prewitt Brown claimed she lost in back pay.

University officials protested the ruling as unfounded, but spokeswoman Sue McGovern said a decision about an appeal has not been made.

″Boston University has a long and proud tradition of providing full and equal opportunity to its students, faculty and staff, regardless of race, sex or any other irrelevant factor,″ Provost John Westling said in a statement.

″The university will continue to press vigorously its view that there was no discrimination in Dr. Brown’s tenure review.″

Judge Walter J. Skinner will hear arguments on Sept. 22 on whether BU must reinstate Ms. Brown with a tenured position.

Ms. Brown, 39, now a tenured associate professor at Providence College, said the decision was gratifying. She angrily criticized her former boss, BU President John Silber.

″What the verdict says, it says about John Silber, because he’s the one who took the responsibility for the decision,″ she said in a telephone interview from her home in Sharon.

Silber was out of town and unavailable for comment, Ms. McGovern said.

When Ms. Brown, an expert in 19th century English fiction, was considered for tenure, she was approved by three faculty committees. But Silber overruled them in 1981.

The jury of five women and one man deliberated about eight hours over two days before reaching its decision. It rejected Ms. Brown’s claim that the private university’s board of trustees also denied her tenure on the basis of her political activism. She participated in a faculty strike in 1979.

Of that finding, Ms. Brown said she was not surprised because that charge was harder to prove.

When Ms. Brown failed to get tenure, she took temporary jobs teaching at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It took her two years to gain tenure at Providence College, a Catholic liberal arts college in Providence, R.I.

Thirteen days of testimony in the case concluded Monday. Ms. Brown’s lawyer, Dahlia Rudavsky, had argued that university officials lied when they claimed Ms. Brown was denied tenure because her scholarship was weak. She blamed Silber for the sex bias.

Silber, during his testimony, did not deny a claim by another witness who said he once called the school’s English Department ″a damn matriarchy.″

Ms. Rudavsky also cited as evidence a 1984 speech by Silber decrying the breakdown of American family life, blaming it on working women and women who are single parents.

BU attorney Sandra Sue McQuay said denying Ms. Brown tenure was not intended to get her to leave the school. The denial was based on the university’s assertion that a book Ms. Brown wrote on Jane Austen was a revision of her doctoral dissertation and was the only work she did in the seven years she taught there, Ms. McQuay argued.

Ms. Brown said she is undecided about whether she would return to Boston University if given the opportunity by Skinner.

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