Julie A. Nelson vs. Brandeis University Fact Sheet

Fact Sheet

Julie A. Nelson v. Brandeis University

From the filing of a charge of discrimination (MCAD No. 98-BEM-1205) with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, April 16, 1998:



1. My name is Julie Anne Nelson. I hold a B.A. degree in Economics from St. Olaf College (1978) and M.A. (1982) and Ph.D. (1986) degrees in Economics from the University of Wisconsin. I have previously held positions as a Research Economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and as an Assistant Professor, and then Associate Professor with tenure, at the University of California, Davis, Department of Economics.

2. I came to the Brandeis University Department of Economics and Graduate School of International Economics and Finance in the summer of 1995, as an untenured, tenure-track, Associate Professor on a three-year (later changed to four-year) contract. The position was in the area of Applied Microeconomics. My interest in Women’s Studies was also known, and I was encouraged to develop a new course on Gender and Economics. My tenure review was to take place in academic year 1996-97, but I later agreed to the department’s request to defer the review until academic year 1997-98.

3. At Brandeis, tenure may be granted by the board of trustees after review by the candidate’s department, the dean, an ad hoc faculty committee, the provost and the president. Tenure criteria at Brandeis are performance in scholarship, teaching, professional activities, and participation in departmental and university functions. I performed well in each of these areas during my professional career, including my years at Brandeis.

4. During the summer of 1997, during which the tenure review process should have started, I was told by the Chair of the Department of Economics, Professor Tren Dolbear, that the senior faculty of the department did not feel that reviewing me for tenure would be worthwhile. This was in spite of the fact that I made many innovations in the curriculum, my teaching was generally rated as very good by the students, my publication record was acknowledged to be lengthy, I published in prestigious journals, my publishing productivity had continued in my years at Brandeis, and my service to the department, university, profession, and community were within the normal expected ranges. I had never received a negative evaluation from the department. The stated reason for the department’s decision not to conduct a review was that my fields of academic specialization did not "fit" the department’s needs.

5. During the fall of 1997 I protested this denial of a tenure review to the dean. On October 20, 1997, I met with Dean of Arts and Sciences Robin Miller, who verbally stated that she had accepted the department’s decision. Nevertheless, the next day she instructed the department to ask for and examine my publications and the tenure statement I had prepared. On December 16, 1997, Professor Dolbear informed me that the department had not changed their decision to not recommend me for tenure. In a letter dated December 17, 1997, Dean Miller stated that 1998-99 would be my terminal year at Brandeis.

6. The "fit" issue is neither legitimate nor credible. It is not normal practice at Brandeis to use "fit" as a criterion during the last few years before a tenure decision. In fact, my department has indicated that it needs more people in my field of Applied Microeconomics and it is currently recruiting in that area. When I recently asked a senior member of the department how the department could justify hiring in the same field that they were firing me from due to an absence of "fit," the faculty member replied that "Your major strength is Women’s Studies. We would never have looked for someone whose major strength is in Women’s Studies." That statement inaccurately implies that I am not qualified as an Applied Microeconomist.

7. While I also do work in feminist economic theory, my Applied Microeconomics work stands on its own. At UC-Davis - a more highly ranked research department - it was felt that I was tenurable on the basis of that Applied Microeconomics work, without regard to my work in feminist theory. Nor can the Brandeis department legitimately claim to have been misled about the nature of my work at the time it hired me, since I had numerous publications in both areas at the time. I believe that what the senior faculty member’s statement amounts to is that the department counts my feminist work against me.

8. I believe the real reason for the department’s denying me a tenure review is bias against me as a woman, and in particular as a feminist scholar. Men in the department with considerably fewer qualifications in the area of scholarship (and whose qualifications in the areas of teaching and service are not, upon information and belief, appreciably higher than mine) have been tenured in recent years. Upon information and belief, the last four men who came up for tenure in the department were all voted on positively by the department. The only other woman to come up for tenure recently received a negative departmental vote. There are currently 14 members of the department, beside myself, who are tenured or tenure-track. Only one of the 14 is female. My research applying feminist scholarship on the philosophy and methodology of science to the discipline of economics is internationally known. Since some of my work speaks critically about the masculine biases in current disciplinary practices, it would not be surprising if that work sometimes makes conventional economists somewhat uncomfortable. I believe the question of "fit" is, then, really a question of not "fitting in" to a group that is male-dominated both in sex composition and in disciplinary values.

10. Not only was the outcome of this evaluation process biased, but also the process itself was rife with procedural errors which demonstrate a rather dismissive attitude towards my work and my employment rights. I never received the review based on scholarship, teaching, and service that I was promised in my original letter of appointment, but instead was always evaluated primarily on "fit." The department did not request or review my dossier, contrary to normal practice at Brandeis, until after the department had reached a negative decision. The department did not solicit outside letters of evaluation regarding my scholarship, also contrary to Brandeis practice, nor were the reasons for the denial ever put in writing by the dean, as required by Brandeis’ procedures. (On April 13, 1998, some eight or more months beyond the appropriate time, the dean informed me that upon reflection, she was directing the department to seek outside letters of evaluation. However, as far as I have been told, the dean’s notice of termination has not been withdrawn.) The department and administration even went so far as to treat me, for a period of time, as a non-tenure track Associate Professor, in spite of their own letters promising me a tenure review.

11. I believe that Brandeis’ actions set out above constitute discrimination on the basis of sex and violate M.G.L. c. 151B and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1 et seq. As a consequence of Brandeis’ discrimination, I will lose my job and will have a consequent loss of salary and benefits of employment. Brandeis’ discrimination has also caused me to lose personal and professional reputation and professional opportunities, and I have incurred attorney’s fees and other expenses. I have also suffered emotional distress as a result of the events described above. Brandeis is liable for all my losses.

Signed under the penalties of perjury this 16th day of April, 1998.

Julie A. Nelson

Brief update (as of March 6, 2001)

(Note: This is an informal and non-comprehensive summary in my own words. The source documents are available.)

  1. In June of 1998, Brandeis submitted a Statement of Position to MCAD in response to the above Complaint, arguing that "'[f]it' is a credible and legitimate criterion." Brandeis also argued that I did not meet the standards for tenure. To reach this conclusion, they counted only scholarship that was both begun and published in the space of two years at Brandeis. They argued that I failed to be "outstanding" as a teacher. They further argued that I was not a Public or Labor (Applied Microeconomics) economist. They argued that no sex bias was involved, and that procedures followed in my case were merely "different" rather than discriminatory. They argued that I had missed the statute of limitations for filing the complaint (on the reasoning that the negative recommendation from the department in the summer of 1997 constituted the tenure denial "decision.")
  2. In July of 1998, I filed a rebuttal to Brandeis' position, arguing that the complaint was timely; that my full history of scholarly work showed merit considerably above the standards applied to recent male candidates, especially in terms of prestige of journals (I have published five times in the top 20 journals in my profession, while the highest ranked publication of a recently tenured male in the Brandeis Economics Department was in a journal ranked 104th); that my productivity had continued while at Brandeis (including finishing work begun earlier, and beginning works later published); that other candidates were not required to be "outstanding" teachers; that my pre-Brandeis teaching and considerable portions of my past and current scholarship are in Public and Labor economics; that arguments about "fit" were illegitimate; and that the denial of tenure was due to sex discrimination.
  3. In the summer of 1998, the Brandeis Faculty Senate distributed a report of a special Select Senate Subcommittee which had been formed to consider the question of proper procedures in a tenure case, and whether a department should be permitted to raise the question of "fit" of fields, in the case of an Associate Professor on a three-year appointment. The advisory opinion on the first reiterated that the procedures of compiling letters, etc., outlined in the Handbook must be followed. The opinion given on the second issue was that a department cannot make such a claim "that the type of work…does not 'fit' departmental needs--since it should have known that before making the appointment." (The only exception would be if the candidate had shifted fields.)
  4. In the fall of 1998, Dean Robin Miller formed an ad hoc committee to review my tenure case.
  5. In January 1999, the Dean wrote me that, while my teaching was "adequate" and my service was "positive," the ad hoc committee pointed out "shortcomings" in my research, which caused the Dean to not recommend an award of tenure. In regard to my Applied Microeconomics work, the ad hoc committee reportedly judged that the work should have "move[d] beyond critiques of established lines of analysis." The feminist work faced a similar criticism, and was further characterized as having "repetitiveness" and "a narrowness" of the frame of analysis.
  6. In January 1999, I appealed to the Brandeis Tenure Board to review the procedural violations in the tenure case. This Board, whose members were appointed by Dean Robin Miller, reported in March 1999 that "the unusual step of convening an ad hoc committee to consider your case served to remedy any arguable procedural irregularities that may have occurred earlier."
  7. As my position with Brandeis expired at the end of the 1998-1999 academic year, I took a one-year visiting position at University of Massachusetts-Boston for 1999-2000. The Department of Economics and GSIEF hired five new full-time faculty members for 1999-2000. All were male, and one was a microeconomist and labor economist. (To the best recollection of at least two faculty members, all candidates brought to the campus for recruiting seminars were male.)
  8. In early May 2000, at Brandeis' suggestion, the services of a professional mediator were engaged. No settlement was reached. The "pre-discovery" phase of the complaint process with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination continued until late June 2000. This long and expensive stage revealed many interesting additional documents (all protected by confidentiality agreements). For the 2000-2001 academic year, I accepted a Fellowship position at the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life at Harvard Divinity School.
  9. According to MCAD procedures, after "pre-discovery," the Commission makes a determination of either "lack of probable cause" (in which case they do no further investigation) or "probable cause." On July 25, 2000 MCAD found "that probable cause exists for crediting the allegations of the Complainant against the parties [Brandeis University]." We are "afforded the opportunity to participate in a conciliation conference held at the Commission," scheduled for October 2000. If this conference does not bring about an informal resolution, "the case will be certified for public hearing and a final disposition will be rendered by the designated Hearing Commissioner."
  10. Brandeis protested the finding of probable cause, and we filed a brief in reply.
  11. In February 2001, the case was "resolved" and the complaint withdrawn.

July 17, 2011: It has since come to my attention that some people are saying that I was never appointed on the tenure track. To dispel this myth, see this letter.

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