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Snitow v. Rutgers University

Decided: March 17, 1986.


On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

For reversal -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by O'Hern, J.


The central issue in this appeal concerns the point at which a party may seek to be relieved of a contractual agreement to grieve a dispute over the terms and conditions of public employment and pursue a claim for relief in a court of law. The case arises in the context of a university professor challenging the legality and fairness of a tenure-retention decision. The teacher asserts that recourse to the grievance provisions of her contract would be futile so as to warrant the fashioning of a judicial remedy directing the method in which the university should evaluate her qualifications for tenure. We find that her judicial challenge to the university's method of determining tenure is premature and does not demonstrate the futility of the contractual grievance process.


Dr. Ann Barr Snitow has been an assistant professor of English at Rutgers University for many years. In accordance with the University's procedures, she was to be considered for

reappointment and promotion in the Fall of 1981. That reappointment would have brought with it tenure.

The promotion and tenure process at Rutgers consists of evaluations by various committees and university officials. The process is multi-leveled and requires the review to commence with a recommendation by the tenured faculty at or above the proposed rank in the candidate's department, including the views of the department chair. The recommendation is forwarded to the dean of the college (here the School of Arts and Sciences). That dean consults with and receives the recommendation of that college's Appointments and Promotions Committee. When the evaluation is completed, the dean forwards the packet to the Office of the Provost or the Executive Vice President of the University, whichever applies, at which point a university-wide "appropriate peer group" of the Section (here the English Department) evaluates the candidate's credentials and submits its recommendation to the Office of the Executive Vice President. These materials are then furnished to the Promotion Review Committee, which is appointed by the President of the University to consider such personnel actions. This body (referred to as the "Summit") submits recommendations to the President. After considering all of the evidence from these various sources, the President makes a final recommendation to the Board of Governors of the University.

In the Fall of 1981, respondent was considered for promotion to the rank of Associate Professor and to be awarded tenure in accordance with these procedures. The English Department, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the English Section recommended Professor Snitow for promotion with tenure. The Committee on Appointments and the University's Promotion Review Committee, however, recommended against promotion and tenure.

Upon notification of the adverse decisions, Professor Snitow filed a grievance against the decisions of the latter two committees. The agreement between Rutgers University and the

Rutgers Council of the American Association of University Professors Chapters (hereinafter the "Agreement") provides a procedure to resolve disputes that arise in the course of the administration of this progressive evaluation toward teacher tenure.

In her grievance proceeding plaintiff alleged various discrepancies. The first concerned an early article of hers included in her promotion package; she contended that this article did not reflect her more recent interests and abilities and should not have been included in the package. The Grievance Committee agreed with her on this point and found that the Department had caused her to be harmed by its careless method in assembling the promotion package. In addition, Professor Snitow alleged that the Appointments and Promotions Committee had destroyed all notes and records of its deliberations and otherwise had acted arbitrarily in handling her matter. Finally, and most importantly for this disposition, she alleged prejudice on the part of a member of the Promotion Review Committee. This prejudice was allegedly based on an earlier article of the member espousing the view that a program of women's studies did not belong in the organization and aims of an English department. Dr. Snitow, the Grievance Committee found, had an "active commitment * * * to * * * 'Women's Studies.'" The Committee accepted plaintiff's allegations that the professor's article ...

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