JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.
In this case we are asked to decide whether a university enjoys a special privilege, grounded in either the common law or the First Amendment, against disclosure of peer review materials that are relevant to charges of racial or sexual discrimination in tenure decisions.
The University of Pennsylvania, petitioner here, is a private institution. It currently operates 12 schools, including the Wharton School of Business, which collectively enroll approximately 18,000 full-time students.
In 1985, the University denied tenure to Rosalie Tung, an associate professor on the Wharton faculty. Tung then filed a sworn charge of discrimination with respondent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC or Commission). App. 23. As subsequently amended, the charge alleged that Tung was the victim of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and national origin, in violation of § 703(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 255, as amended, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-2(a) (1982 ed.), which makes it unlawful "to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."
In her charge, Tung stated that the department chairman had sexually harassed her and that, in her belief, after she insisted that their relationship remain professional, he had submitted a negative letter to the University's Personnel Committee which possessed ultimate responsibility for tenure decisions. She also alleged that her qualifications were "equal to or better than" those of five named male faculty members who had received more favorable treatment. Tung noted that the majority of the members of her department had recommended her for tenure, and stated that she had been given no reason for the decision against her, but had discovered of her own efforts that the Personnel Committee had attempted to justify its decision "on the ground that the Wharton School is not interested in China-related research." App. 29. This explanation, Tung's charge alleged, was a pretext for discrimination: "simply their way of saying they do not want a Chinese-American, Oriental, woman in their school." Ibid.
The Commission denied the University's application. It concluded that the withheld documents were needed in order to determine the merit of Tung's charges. The Commission found: "There has not been enough data supplied in order for the Commission to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the allegations of sex, race and national origin discrimination is [sic] true." App. to Pet. for Cert. A31. The Commission rejected petitioner's contention that a letter, which set forth the Personnel Committee's reasons for denying Tung tenure, was sufficient for disposition of the charge. "The Commission would fall short of its obligation" to investigate charges of discrimination, the EEOC's order
The University continued to withhold the tenure-review materials. The Commission then applied to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for enforcement of its subpoena. The court entered a brief enforcement order.
The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the enforcement decision. 850 F.2d 969 (1988).
As it had done before the Commission, the District Court, and the Court of Appeals, the University raises here essentially two claims. First, it urges us to recognize a qualified common-law privilege against disclosure of confidential peer review materials. Second, it asserts a First Amendment right of "academic freedom" against wholesale disclosure of the contested documents. With respect to each of the two claims, the remedy petitioner seeks is the same: a requirement of a judicial finding of particularized necessity of access, beyond a showing of mere relevance, before peer review materials are disclosed to the Commission.
Petitioner's common-law privilege claim is grounded in Federal Rule of Evidence 501. This provides in relevant part:
We do not create and apply an evidentiary privilege unless it "promotes sufficiently important interests to outweigh the need for probative evidence . . . ." Trammel v. United States, 445 U.S. 40, 51 (1980). Inasmuch as "[t]estimonial exclusionary rules and privileges contravene the fundamental principle that `the public . . . has a right to every man's evidence,' " id., at 50, quoting United States v. Bryan, 339 U.S. 323, 331 (1950), any such privilege must "be strictly construed." 445 U. S., at 50.
Moreover, although Rule 501 manifests a congressional desire "not to freeze the law of privilege" but rather to provide the courts with flexibility to develop rules of privilege on a case-by-case basis, id., at 47, we are disinclined to exercise this authority expansively. We are especially reluctant to recognize a privilege in an area where it appears that Congress has considered the relevant competing concerns but has not provided the privilege itself. Cf. Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 706 (1972). The balancing of conflicting interests of this type is particularly a legislative function.
With all this in mind, we cannot accept the University's invitation to create a new privilege against the disclosure of peer review materials. We begin by noting that Congress, in extending Title VII to educational institutions and in providing for broad EEOC subpoena powers, did not see fit to create a privilege for peer review documents.
When Title VII was enacted originally in 1964, it exempted an "educational institution with respect to the employment of individuals to perform work connected with the educational
The effect of the elimination of this exemption was to expose tenure determinations to the same enforcement procedures applicable to other employment decisions. This Court previously has observed that Title VII "sets forth `an integrated, multistep enforcement procedure' that enables the Commission to detect and remedy instances of discrimination." EEOC v. Shell Oil Co., 466 U.S. 54, 62 (1984), quoting Occidental Life Ins. Co. v. EEOC, 432 U.S. 355, 359 (1977). The Commission's enforcement responsibilities are triggered by the filing of a specific sworn charge of discrimination. The Act obligates the Commission to investigate a charge of discrimination to determine whether there is "reasonable cause to believe that the charge is true." 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-5(b) (1982 ed.). If it finds no such reasonable cause, the Commission is directed to dismiss the charge. If it does find reasonable cause, the Commission shall "endeavor to eliminate [the] alleged unlawful employment
To enable the Commission to make informed decisions at each stage of the enforcement process, § 2000e-8(a) confers a broad right of access to relevant evidence:
If an employer refuses to provide this information voluntarily, the Act authorizes the Commission to issue a subpoena and to seek an order enforcing it. § 2000e-9 (incorporating 29 U. S. C. § 161).
On their face, §§ 2000e-8(a) and 2000e-9 do not carve out any special privilege relating to peer review materials, despite the fact that Congress undoubtedly was aware, when it extended Title VII's coverage, of the potential burden that access to such material might create. Moreover, we have noted previously that when a court is asked to enforce a Commission subpoena, its responsibility is to "satisfy itself that the charge is valid and that the material requested is `relevant' to the charge . . . and more generally to assess any contentions by the employer that the demand for information is too indefinite or has been made for an illegitimate purpose." It is not then to determine "whether the charge of discrimination is `well founded' or `verifiable.' " EEOC v. Shell Oil Co., 466 U. S., at 72, n. 26.
The University concedes that the information sought by the Commission in this case passes the relevance test set
Although the text of the access provisions thus provides no privilege, Congress did address situations in which an employer may have an interest in the confidentiality of its records. The same § 2000e-8 which gives the Commission access to any evidence relevant to its investigation also makes it "unlawful for any officer or employee of the Commission to make public in any manner whatever any information obtained by the Commission pursuant to its authority under this section prior to the institution of any proceeding" under the Act. A violation of this provision subjects the employee to criminal penalties. Ibid. To be sure, the protection of confidentiality that § 2000e-8(e) provides is less than complete.
We readily agree with petitioner that universities and colleges play significant roles in American society. Nor need we question, at this point, petitioner's assertion that confidentiality is important to the proper functioning of the peer review process under which many academic institutions operate. The costs that ensue from disclosure, however, constitute only one side of the balance. As Congress has recognized, the costs associated with racial and sexual discrimination in institutions of higher learning are very substantial. Few would deny that ferreting out this kind of invidious discrimination is a great, if not compelling, governmental interest. Often, as even petitioner seems to admit, see Reply Brief for Petitioner 15, disclosure of peer review materials will be necessary in order for the Commission to determine whether illegal discrimination has taken place. Indeed, if there is a "smoking gun" to be found that demonstrates discrimination in tenure decisions, it is likely to be tucked away in peer review files. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit expressed it this way:
Acceptance of petitioner's claim would also lead to a wave of similar privilege claims by other employers who play significant roles in furthering speech and learning in society. What of writers, publishers, musicians, lawyers? It surely is not unreasonable to believe, for example, that confidential peer reviews play an important part in partnership determinations at some law firms. We perceive no limiting principle in petitioner's argument. Accordingly, we stand behind the breakwater Congress has established: unless specifically provided otherwise in the statute, the EEOC may obtain "relevant" evidence. Congress has made the choice. If it dislikes the result, it of course may revise the statute.
Finally, we see nothing in our precedents that supports petitioner's claim. In United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974), upon which petitioner relies, we recognized a qualified privilege for Presidential communications. It is true that in fashioning this privilege we noted the importance of confidentiality in certain contexts:
In Douglas Oil Co. of Cal. v. Petrol Stops Northwest, 441 U.S. 211 (1979), the Court recognized the privileged nature of grand jury proceedings. We noted there that the rule of secrecy dated back to the 17th century, was imported into our federal common law, and was eventually codified in Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) as "an integral part of our criminal justice system." 441 U. S., at 218, n. 9. Similarly, in Clark v. United States, 289 U.S. 1, 13 (1933), the Court recognized a privilege for the votes and deliberations of a petit jury, noting that references to the privilege "bear with them the implications of an immemorial tradition." More recently, in NLRB v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 421 U.S. 132 (1975), we construed an exception to the Freedom of Information Act in which Congress had incorporated a well-established privilege for deliberative intraagency documents. A privilege for peer review materials has no similar historical or statutory basis.
As noted above, petitioner characterizes its First Amendment claim as one of "academic freedom." Petitioner begins its argument by focusing our attention upon language in prior cases acknowledging the crucial role universities play in the dissemination of ideas in our society and recognizing "academic freedom" as a "special concern of the First Amendment." Keyishian v. Board of Regents of University of New York, 385 U.S. 589, 603 (1967). In that case the Court said:
Petitioner contends that it exercises this right of determining "on academic grounds who may teach" through the process of awarding tenure. A tenure system, asserts petitioner, determines what the university will look like over time. "In making tenure decisions, therefore, a university is doing nothing less than shaping its own identity." Brief for Petitioner 19.
Petitioner next maintains that the peer review process is the most important element in the effective operation of a tenure system. A properly functioning tenure system requires the faculty to obtain candid and detailed written evaluations of the candidate's scholarship, both from the candidate's peers at the university and from scholars at other institutions. These evaluations, says petitioner, traditionally have been provided with express or implied assurances of confidentiality. It is confidentiality that ensures candor and enables an institution to make its tenure decisions on the basis of valid academic criteria.
Building from these premises, petitioner claims that requiring the disclosure of peer review evaluations on a finding of mere relevance will undermine the existing process of awarding tenure, and therefore will result in a significant infringement of petitioner's First Amendment right of academic
In our view, petitioner's reliance on the so-called academic-freedom cases is somewhat misplaced. In those cases government was attempting to control or direct the content of the speech engaged in by the university or those affiliated with it. In Sweezy, for example, the Court invalidated the conviction of a person found in contempt for refusing to answer questions about the content of a lecture he had delivered at a state university. Similarly, in Keyishian, the Court invalidated a network of state laws that required public employees, including teachers at state universities, to make certifications with respect to their membership in the Communist Party. When, in those cases, the Court spoke of "academic freedom" and the right to determine on "academic grounds who may teach" the Court was speaking in reaction to content-based regulation. See Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U. S., at 250 (plurality opinion discussing problems that result from imposition of a "strait jacket upon the intellectual leaders in our colleges and universities"); Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U. S., at 603 (discussing dangers that are present when a "pall of orthodoxy" is cast "over the classroom").
Also, the cases upon which petitioner places emphasis involved direct infringements on the asserted right to "determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach." In Keyishian, for example, government was attempting to substitute its teaching employment criteria for those already in place at the academic institutions, directly and completely usurping the discretion of each institution. In contrast, the EEOC subpoena at issue here effects no such usurpation. The Commission is not providing criteria that petitioner must use in selecting teachers. Nor is it preventing the University from using any criteria it may wish to use, except those — including race, sex, and national origin — that are proscribed under Title VII.
That the burden of which the University complains is neither content based nor direct does not necessarily mean that petitioner has no valid First Amendment claim. Rather, it means only that petitioner's claim does not fit neatly within any right of academic freedom that could be derived from the cases on which petitioner relies. In essence, petitioner asks us to recognize an expanded right of academic freedom to protect confidential peer review materials from disclosure. Although we are sensitive to the effects that content-neutral government action may have on speech, see, e. g., Heffron v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc., 452 U.S. 640, 647-648 (1981), and believe that burdens that are less than direct may sometimes pose First Amendment concerns, see, e. g., NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449 (1958), we think the First Amendment cannot be extended to embrace petitioner's claim.
First, by comparison with the cases in which we have found a cognizable First Amendment claim, the infringement the University complains of is extremely attenuated. To repeat, it argues that the First Amendment is infringed by disclosure of peer review materials because disclosure undermines the confidentiality which is central to the peer review process, and this in turn is central to the tenure process, which in turn is the means by which petitioner seeks to exercise
Indeed, if the University's attenuated claim were accepted, many other generally applicable laws might also be said to infringe the First Amendment. In effect, petitioner says no more than that disclosure of peer review materials makes it more difficult to acquire information regarding the "academic grounds" on which petitioner wishes to base its tenure decisions. But many laws make the exercise of First Amendment rights more difficult. For example, a university cannot claim a First Amendment violation simply because it may be subject to taxation or other government regulation, even though such regulation might deprive the university of revenue it needs to bid for professors who are contemplating working for other academic institutions or in industry. We doubt that the peer review process is any more essential in effectuating the right to determine "who may teach" than is the availability of money. Cf. Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 19 (1976) (discussing how money is sometimes necessary to effectuate First Amendment rights).
In addition to being remote and attenuated, the injury to academic freedom claimed by petitioner is also speculative. As the EEOC points out, confidentiality is not the norm in all peer review systems. See, e. g., G. Bednash, The Relationship Between Access and Selectivity in Tenure Review Outcomes (1989) (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Maryland). Moreover, some disclosure of peer evaluations would take place even if petitioner's "special necessity" test were adopted. Thus, the "chilling effect" petitioner fears is at most only incrementally worsened by the absence of a privilege. Finally, we are not so ready as petitioner seems to be to assume the worst about those in the academic community. Although it is possible that some evaluators may become less candid as the possibility of disclosure increases, others may simply ground their evaluations in specific examples
The case we decide today in many respects is similar to Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665 (1972). In Branzburg, the Court rejected the notion that under the First Amendment a reporter could not be required to appear or to testify as to information obtained in confidence without a special showing that the reporter's testimony was necessary. Petitioners there, like petitioner here, claimed that requiring disclosure of information collected in confidence would inhibit the free flow of information in contravention of First Amendment principles. In the course of rejecting the First Amendment argument, this Court noted that "the First Amendment does not invalidate every incidental burdening of the press that may result from the enforcement of civil or criminal statutes of general applicability." Id., at 682. We also indicated a reluctance to recognize a constitutional privilege where it was "unclear how often and to what extent informers are actually deterred from furnishing information when newsmen are forced to testify before a grand jury." Id., at 693. See also Herbert v. Lando, 441 U.S. 153, 174 (1979). We were unwilling then, as we are today, "to embark the judiciary on a long and difficult journey to . . . an uncertain destination." 408 U. S., at 703.
Because we conclude that the EEOC subpoena process does not infringe any First Amendment right enjoyed by petitioner, the EEOC need not demonstrate any special justification to sustain the constitutionality of Title VII as applied to tenure peer review materials in general or to the subpoena involved in this case. Accordingly, we need not address the
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.
It is so ordered.
Susan Deller Ross, R. Bruce Keiner, Jr., and Sarah E. Burns filed a brief for the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance.