Brown Emails Muse on the Ivy ‘Killing’ Sports Gender-Equity Pact

A decades-old legal fight over gender equity in sports atBrown University heated up this week with the disclosure of internal emails that included a discussion of upending a landmark settlement with female athletes.

In one exchange, Chancellor Samuel Mencoff mused on transferring negative public sentiment aboutchanges the Ivy League school announced to its varsity sports program in May, including the downgrade of five varsity women’s teams, to the settlement itself.

“Could we channel all this emotion away from anger at Brown to anger at the court and kill this pestilential thing,” Mencoff wrote in a June 4 email made public on Wednesday as part of a lawsuit against Brown. “The argument would be that the consent decree is forcing us to eliminate these sports, and the court would then be bombarded with emails and calls as we are now.”

Brown’s 1998 settlement of the lawsuit, brought by gymnastAmy Cohen and other female athletes, has served as a road map forTitle IX compliance for college athletic departments across the country. Under the consent decree that arose from the deal, if the Providence, Rhode Island, university cuts any intercollegiate women’s teams, each gender’s representation in the athletic program must be within 2.25% of its share of the undergraduate student body for the year.

Read More: Brown University Demoted Women’s Teams, Now Must Explain

Public Justice and theAmerican Civil Liberties Union Foundationof Rhode Island filed to reopen the case in June after the university announced it was reducing the five teams to club status. The emails show that Brown “knowingly violated” the pact “and by extension Title IX” because “it wanted to use this dispute as a vehicle for challenging the agreement — presumably so that it can proceed to violate Title IX with impunity,” they argue.

The plaintiffs are cherry-picking documents to give a false impression of Brown’s intentions, university spokesperson Brian Clark said in an email. The university “stands near the top among our peers” in giving women varsity athletic opportunities and “has never wavered in its commitment to gender equality and complying with Title IX,” including full compliance with the settlement since it was struck, Clark said.

“Brown is not seeking to terminate the consent decree at this time,” he said. “However, we have no hesitation expressing our view that the joint agreement has outlived its usefulness.”

Brown’s president, Christina Paxson, told Mencoff and Kevin Mundt, chair of the Athletics Advisory Council, in a June 9 email that a letter the school was sending out on varsity sports wouldn’t raise the issue directly.

“I expect both of you may have wanted us to be more explicit about our intention to fight the consent decree,” Paxson wrote. “Our concern is that this could rile up the Cohens of the world and put us in a defensive posture.”

The case is Cohen v. Brown University, 92-cv-00197, U.S. District Court, District of Rhode Island.

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