Education Sports

Brown University Faces Challenge for Unequal Elimination of Varsity Teams

Plaintiffs in a 1992 lawsuit are challenging Brown University in court for violating its settlement agreement, arguing that the school’s recent demotion of multiple varsity sports teams did not protect gender equity.

The motion, filed by the ACLU of Rhode Island and advocacy organization Public Justice, argues that the recent cuts to varsity teams further exacerbate gender inequalities within Brown’s athletic program. The original settlement required that intercollegiate athletic opportunities be proportional to the genders’ enrollment.

Brown announced a substantial cut to its athletics program on May 28, demoting 11 varsity teams to club status. The teams cut were men and women’s fencing, men and women’s golf, women’s skiing, men and women’s squash, women’s equestrian and men’s track, field and cross country. Approximately 40% of the roster eliminated were women.

However, the men’s track and field and cross-country teams were reinstated after the university faced public backlash. Athletes and advocates said these teams provided students of color, especially Black students, with the opportunity for an Ivy League education. The university did not choose to reinstate any women’s teams, meaning women now account for nearly 70% of roster cuts.

Brown has announced plans to elevate the coed sailing team to varsity status and argues those roster spots will keep their compliance. The ACLU argues that creating a team where gender enrollment is unknown does not satisfy the gender equity provisions.

“For the women athletes, Brown has once again displayed a lack of commitment—as opposed to lip service—to gender equity and to its obligations, not only to its students, but to the Court,” Lynette Labinger, lead counsel of the 1992 lawsuit, said in a statement.

With the three men’s varsity teams reinstated, women’s participation in varsity athletics now account for 47.9% of all athletes. Meanwhile, women account for 52.3% of Brown’s undergraduate population, creating a 4.4% discrepancy in the proportions of women in athletics and in overall enrollment.

The university disputes the alleged violation of settlement terms.

“Today’s motion is a preemptive legal action asserting a hypothetical violation that has not taken place — and Brown would not allow this speculative scenario to emerge in future athletic seasons,” university spokesperson Brian Clark wrote.


Sources: The Brown Daily Herald 06/29/20; Inside Higher Ed 07/01/20; ACLU of Rhode Island 06/29/20; CNN 06/11/20.

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