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University of Pennsylvania v. EEOC


The Court's ruling affected all university-level tenure and review committee decisions. It specified whose files could be looked at, by whom, and for what purpose. It placed a high degree of responsibility on university faculty to ensure an academic environment free of discrimination. The Penn case demonstrated the Court's reluctance in establishing new common law privileges.

Afterwards, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) examined Penn's implications. They agreed on a statement favoring openness. The AAUP stressed faculty members should have full access to their files, access upon request to information in other faculty members' vitae, and ability for university grievance committees to obtain relevant information to decide cases.

A 1993 study revealed most universities did not believe peer review must be confidential to maintain its integrity. Another study indicated many institutions changed aspects of their tenure and promotion process a year after Penn. Although tenure committee meetings remained closed at most universities, over half did not restrict access to peer review documents. This increased access to files at least increased the perception of truthfulness and fairness.

The rejection of a newly defined privilege based on constitutional academic freedom claims is perhaps the most significant part of the Penn decision. Blackmun wrote the Court, in fact, continued to show great respect for academic decision-making. The Court reiterated "free trade in ideas" and upheld traditional academic freedom. But it clarified the distinction between individual and institutional academic freedom by rejecting the extension of freedom to an institution's autonomy. Universities have no right to keep their procedures free from outside scrutiny. By the latter 1990s, debates over the appropriateness of affirmative action measures increased nationally. Just as with Penn, universities again considered prospects of claiming institutional academic freedom in protecting their affirmative action programs from judicial review by asserting such programs were essential for providing a high quality of "collective speech" on campus.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994University of Pennsylvania v. EEOC - Significance, Two Claims Lead To One Question, No Academic Institutional Privilege, Impact, Further Readings