Facing budget cuts due to the coronavirus pandemic, Brown University eliminated eleven varsity sports teams, but their move led to outcry and criticism over equal representation of women and men athletic programs.
The private Ivy League institution eliminated six men’s programs and five women’s programs as a part of the budget cuts. But the university’s internal e-mails were made public record as a part of an ongoing lawsuit between the university and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a progressive group called Public Justice.
In 1998, Brown University made an agreement that said it would keep a strict proportion of women’s and men’s athletic teams. It came as a part of a settlement of a lawsuit about athletic program equality for men’s and women’s sports at the university.
Brown University Chancellor Samuel Mencoff and university president Christina Paxson exchanged e-mails in June 2020 about how to get around the 1998 agreement. Mencoff called the agreement a “pestilential thing” that inhibited the university from reinstating men’s programs such as cross-country and track and field at the behest of donors and alumni. “Could we use this moment, where anger and frustration, especially from track and squash, are intense and building to go after the Consent Decree once and for all?” said Mencoff, “Could we channel all this emotion away from anger at Brown at the court and kill this pestilential thing? 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.”
The Consent Decree is another name for the 1998 agreement.
Paxson’s reply to Mencoff was that “it’s a good idea” and was concerned “this could rile up” activists to “put us in a defensive position.”
Apparently, Brown University’s agreement goes beyond Title IX regulations at the federal level and according to the university, it has hampered its athletic department’s flexibility in decision-making. Title IX regulations typically require federally-funded institutions to have equal athletic program representation for men and women.
Editor’s note: Brown University reached out to clarify their athletic department’s moves, which reads as follows:
“This initiative has absolutely nothing to do with budget cuts, as we’ve made clear from the start.”
“While universities in some areas of the country have announced reductions in athletics programs as budget relief (in the wake of the 2019 novel coronavirus), this initiative at Brown is not a measure to reduce budget or an effort to contend with the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a strategic opportunity to invest even further in advancing excellence in Brown’s full lineup of sports programs. Our athletics budget will not decrease.”