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Harvard moved Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit brought against the University by a professor denied tenure two years ago.
Former Associate Professor of Government Peter Berkowitz has claimed that Harvard misapplied rules regarding tenure procedures when the Faculty's Docket Committee dismissed his grievances without sending them to an ad-hoc panel for consideration.
At a court hearing Wednesday, Berkowitz argued that the mishandling of his tenure application was a breach of his contract with Harvard, saying the University failed to follow its own procedures.
"[The grievance] should have moved on for consideration," said Berkowitz's attorney David Handzo. "The rule is they must pass it on unless it is completely without merit. They misapplied that rule."
But Harvard's attorney, G. Marshall Moriarty, argued that the University handled Berkowitz's complaint correctly.
"There are grievance procedures followed by the University," Moriarty said. "The Docket Committee is empowered to dismiss grievances that are clearly without merit. They did so find and did so act."
Moriarty asked the judge to dismiss the case, saying Berkowitz had no substantive claims against the University.
"He must point to what in his contract was breached," Moriarty said. "He hasn't done it, and can't do it."
But Handzo argued the Docket Committee should not have made its own judgement of the complaint.
"The Docket Committee is there to perform a very preliminary screening, not to rule on the merits of the grievance," Handzo said. "They essentially addressed it on merit and decided to dismiss it."
Harvard's attorney claimed, however, that Berkowitz is not suing the University merely because he feels the tenure process was not followed properly.
"What Professor Berkowitz is driving towards is not that the standard was misapplied," Moriarty said. "He is asking you to decide whether his grievance had merit."
Handzo denied the claim, repeating, "This is a breach of contract case."
The Ongoing Battle
Berkowitz and the University.
In 1996, a government department committee recommended that the University tenure Berkowitz. But in April 1997, President Neil L. Rudenstine denied the junior professor tenure after considering the recommendations of an ad hoc committee.
Berkowitz's began his appeal process in August 1998, claiming that the members of the ad hoc committee did not have expertise in his teaching area.
His claims culminated in an official grievance about the manner in which both the tenure and appeal processes were handled.
Five months later, Berkowitz received a letter from
Richards Professor of Chemistry Cynthia M. Friend notifying him that the elected members of the Docket Committee had found his complaint to be "clearly without merit."
Having exhausted all options within the University, Berkowitz filed a civil suit against Harvard this March.
Middlesex County judge Raymond J. Brassard will decide whether to dismiss the case, although a time frame is not known.
Attorneys on both sides declined further comment while the case is pending.
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