Fred Shoucair v. Brown University,, C.A. PC96-2896

CourtSuperior Court of Rhode Island
PartiesFred Shoucair v. Brown University,
Docket NumberC.A. PC96-2896
Decision Date09 September 2004

Fred Shoucair
Brown University,

C.A. No. PC96-2896

Superior Court of Rhode Island

September 9, 2004







DECISION GIBNEY, J. Before this Court are post trial motions filed by Defendant, Brown University, and Plaintiff, Fred Shoucair (Shoucair). The jury awarded Shoucair $175, 000 in compensatory damages, $100, 000 in punitive damages and $400, 000 in back pay damages. Brown University timely renewed its motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to R.I. Super. Ct. R. Civ. P. 50(b) and moves, in the alternative, for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59. Additionally, Brown University moves this Court to strike the damages award. Shoucair moves for reinstatement or, alternatively, an award of front pay. Shoucair’s attorneys also petition this Court for attorneys’ fees.


Fred Shoucair, a native of Lebanon, obtained his Bachelor of Science and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from Columbia University. On July 1, 1987, Shoucair was hired by Brown University (Brown) as an assistant professor in the Electrical Sciences group of the Division of Engineering. His duties as assistant professor included teaching undergraduate

and graduate students, advising doctoral students, and conducting research. Shoucair’s position was a tenure track position.

After an initial waiting period, the tenure review process at Brown begins with the appointment of a Tenure Review Committee, consisting of two tenured faculty members from the applicant’s group and one member from another group. The Tenure Review Committee reviews the applicant’s records and solicits evaluations of the applicant’s work from experts in his/her field. The Tenure Review Committee makes a recommendation to the applicant’s group as to whether tenure should be granted. The tenured faculty within the applicant’s group then vote for or against tenure. At trial, the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrated that historically at Brown when the Tenure Review Committee had recommended an applicant for tenure, the tenured faculty of the applicant’s group followed that recommendation. After the applicant’s group votes on tenure, the decision must be ratified by the applicant’s department and then by the Committee on Faculty Reappointment and Tenure.


In 1998 or 1999, Shoucair was asked to join LEMS (Laboratory for Engineer Man/Machines Systems). The LEMS group met weekly for an hour and was composed of faculty members from the Electrical Sciences group who were involved in speech and signal processing research. The LEMS group included faculty members Harvey Silverman (Silverman), David Cooper (Cooper), William Wolovich (Wolovich), Alan Pearson (Pearson) and Sumit Ghosh (Ghosh). Shoucair testified that Silverman dominated all the weekly discussions and disturbed him by making offensive comments about the faculty, students and women, as well as offensive racial comments. Silverman offended Shoucair personally by asking him about his background and religion and by telling Shoucair that he looked “like a


terrorist.” Indeed there was universal agreement among witnesses from both camps that Silverman was brash, insensitive, crude and profane. The witnesses, however, did not question his effectiveness as the Dean of Engineering.


In the spring of 1990, Shoucair failed a number of his students in a sophomore-level engineering class. After the semester concluded, Silverman approached Shoucair concerning the grades in that engineering class. Over Shoucair’s objection, Silverman and Wolovich, compelled Shoucair to change the grades. Shoucair then complained to the Dean of Engineering, Alan Needleman (Needleman), who ordered that the original grades be restored. Subsequently, Needleman asked Shoucair to meet with two other faculty members and, as a result of the meeting, Shoucair agreed to lower the passing grade for the engineering class. Following this dispute, Shoucair left the LEMS group.

The grading dispute incident and Shoucair’s departure from the LEMS group took place at a time when Shoucair’s tenure review was approaching. In light of the dispute, three officers from the Faculty Executive Committee, which is comprised of elected leaders of the Brown faculty, spoke with the Dean of Faculty, Brian Shepp, to alert him of the grading dispute. The officers also inquired about the sort of circumstances that would warrant a person to be considered for tenure by an independent group. Shepp testified that based on the grading incident he did not see grounds for an independent body to make Shoucair’s tenure decision.


In 1991, Silverman, who was involved in the grading dispute and who was the source of the allegedly offensive comments during LEMS meetings, was named the Dean of the Division of Engineering. In 1992, Silverman asked Maurice Glicksman (Glicksman), Chairman of the


Division of Engineering, to chair the Tenure Review Committee for Shoucair’s tenure review. Silverman purportedly recused himself from Shoucair’s tenure review process because of the grading dispute incident.

In early 1993, the Tenure Review Committee began the process of compiling and reviewing Shoucair’s record. Among other materials, Shoucair provided the committee with a list of proposed external reviewers, one of them Yannis Tsividis of Columbia University, an expert in Shoucair’s field of micro-electronic devices. Five external reviewers wrote positively about Shoucair. The external reviewers that Glicksman selected to evaluate Shoucair were not familiar with his work and they were therefore unable to comment.

In February of 1993, the Division of Engineering was in the process of filling a faculty vacancy resulting from the resignation of Professor Rosenberg (hereafter the Rosenberg- position). On February 26, 1993, the tenured faculty members voted to offer the Rosenberg- position to a senior scientist from industry named Eli Kapon. During this time period, the Affirmative Action Committee raised questions relative to why the Division of Engineering had declined to interview a number of promising Asian candidates for the Rosenberg-position. The Affirmative Action Committee asked that the Division of Engineering conduct an additional interview. Dean Shepp approved of the request and directed the Division of Engineering to do so. Dean Shepp testified that he was not aware that the interview took place after the vote to extend an offer to Eli Kapon. At trial, Dean Shepp was asked if he could conceive of a situation wherein it would be proper to interview an additional candidate after the division had already made its hiring recommendation and he answered “no.” Further, the March 16, 1993 Minutes of the Engineering Executive Committee Meeting appear to reflect that the additional interview of


“a candidate from an underrepresented group” was considered to be a mere delay to the process of extending an offer to Eli Kapon.

Shortly after the Affirmative Action Committee requested an additional interview for the Rosenberg-position, Glicksman’s secretary, Sandy Spinacci, asked Shoucair to conduct a job interview with an Asian woman. Shoucair testified that he asked Spinacci if the interview was for the Rosenberg-position that the faculty previously voted to offer to Eli Kapon. After consulting with Glicksman, Spinacci confirmed that the proposed interview was for the Rosenberg-position. Shoucair told Spinacci that he refused to interview the woman (hereafter Asian-applicant) and he accused Glicksman of engaging in a sham. Shoucair was ultimately forced to interview the Asian-applicant when Glicksman brought her to Shoucair’s office unexpectedly and asked him to spend 15 minutes with her.

Soon thereafter on March 23, 1993, the Tenure Review Committee voted to recommend Shoucair for tenure. Although the recommendation was in favor of tenure, the report indicated that the recommendation was “without enthusiasm.” Glicksman testified that he believed Shoucair’s teaching was excellent. Nevertheless, he wrote the report without enthusiasm testifying that he believed that the best interests of the faculty would not be served by awarding tenure to Shoucair. Having received the Tenure Review Committee’s recommendation in favor of tenure, the tenured faculty within the Electrical Sciences group considered Shoucair for tenure on March 24, 1993. Despite the Tenure Review Committee’s recommendation for tenure, the group voted against tenure. During the meeting in which the tenured faculty considered Shoucair’s application, Silverman, who had purportedly recused himself from the process, spoke against tenure for Shoucair. Five faculty members – Pearson, Wolovich, Cooper, Daniels, and Lawandy – opposed tenure, and two – Silverman and Glicksman – abstained from the vote. At


trial various reasons were proffered for the denial of tenure including concerns with the narrowness of Shoucair’s research and perceptions that Shoucair had inadequate grant funding. In sum, Brown has asserted that Shoucair was not adequately qualified for tenure. The Division of Engineering ratified the decision to deny tenure, as did the Committee on Faculty Reappointment and Tenure (ConFRaT). Many witnesses testified that Shoucair’s case was the only one they could recall in which the recommendation of the Tenure Review Committee was rejected.

Following the ConFRaT’s ratification of the decision to deny tenure, Shoucair filed a grievance with the Faculty Executive Committee against Silverman and Glicksman. In his grievance, Shoucair claimed violation of academic freedom, violation of procedures, and discrimination. The Faculty Executive Committee found that he had a prima...

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