The University of Pittsburgh School of Law is being sued for age discrimination by tax professor William J. Brown. Brown, 73, first began at Pitt in 1968 and earned tenure at that institution. After 30 years, he left to accept a post as director of the Graduate Tax Program at Duquesne’s business school. When he returned in 2006, he alleged was blocked to returning as a full-time faculty member by a decision of the law school to seek younger faculty members.
Notably, Brown’s age did not appear to affect his performance in the classroom — he won the Excellence in Teaching award for 2007-2008. The school was reportedly worried that the median age of the faculty was relatively high and that the older faculty presented longterm problems for the school. They wanted the tax position to go to a new hire and offered Brown an adjunct position.
Brown refused and returned to teaching part-time at Duquesne.
The lawsuit could raise some interesting questions. It is very common for schools to try to balance untenured and tenured faculty. Having tenure-tracked faculty guarantees a certain continuity on the faculty and also guarantees a higher publication rate. Tenure-tracked faculty tend to bring in “new blood” — professors who push existing scholarship into new areas and guarantee a transition to the next generation of law professors. Notably, this is a distinction not based on age but tenure — preferring new teachers to create a type of academic diversity. However, the preference for tenure-tracked faculty also tends to produce a differential in age. In this case, Brown is arguing that the school isolate age specifically as a matter of concern. It would be difficult to argue that younger professors is a bona fide qualification while it is common to seek to keep a certain number of tenure-tracked positions.