Berkowitz, who was denied tenure in 1997, is suing the University for breach of contract.
Yesterday’s hearing at the Suffolk County Courthouse was the result of an appeal filed by Harvard in February 2001 to prevent Berkowitz’s suit from reaching the “discovery of evidence” phase.
That phase would allow Berkowitz to demand confidential documents and correspondence from his tenure review, bringing to light aspects of Harvard’s tenure process that have never before been made public.
That was a frightening possibility for the University, said Boston attorney Harvey A. Silverglate, who co-founded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and has long taken interest in Harvard’s internal politics.
“Any trial which threatens to take the veil off [the tenure] process would probably be very damaging to Harvard’s credibility,” Silverglate said.
But the discovery phase—and the entire civil suit—is on hold pending the appellate court ruling.
Yesterday, both parties presented their cases to the appellate court’s three-judge panel.
Attorneys for Harvard argued that the court should stick to its tradition of not interfering in the academic affairs of universities.
“This case is at the far academic end of the spectrum where the degree of reluctance [by the court to interfere] should be at its highest,” said Harvard’s attorney G. Marshall Moriarty.
Berkowitz’s lawyer, however, urged the judges to enforce state contract law.
“It is equally clear that where Harvard has chosen to enter into contract, that contract is subject to court intervention even if that means the court must intervene in academic affairs,” said David A. Handzo, an attorney for Berkowitz.
The proceedings took less than an hour.
Handzo said he expected the court would deliver its ruling in about four months.
Berkowitz appeared upbeat after yesterday’s proceedings.
“I’m hoping for the best out of this lawsuit,” he said.