University of Texas at Austin to Professor Richard Lowery:
“Nice job you got here. Shame if something happened to it.”
They’re coming for you next: Professor Richard Lowery is now suing the University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) for its attempts to silence him, including threatening his job, cutting his pay, and monitoring his speech, actions instigated against Lowery because he was publicly critical of the university’s racist “diversity, equity, and inclusion” policies as well as the university’s efforts, led by its president Jay Hartzell, to insert political propaganda into its courses.
Lowery is being represented by the Institute for Free Speech, which filed his lawsuit [pdf] on February 8, 2023.
The campaign [against Lowery and his allies at the university] started by pressuring Carlos Carvalho, another professor of business at the UT McCombs School who is also the Executive Director of the Salem Center for Public Policy, an academic institute that is part of the McCombs School. Lowery is an Associate Director and a Senior Scholar at the Salem Center and reports to Carvalho.
In the summer of 2022, Sheridan Titman, one of the senior UT officials named in the lawsuit, told Carvalho, “We need to do something about Richard.” According to the lawsuit, “he added that [UT] President [Jay] Hartzell and Dean [Lillian] Mills were upset about Lowery’s political advocacy.” Titman wanted to know if ‘we can ask him to tone it down?’”
Carvalho understood this as a threat by Titman, directed at Lowery, but initially refused to convey it. Carvalho explained to Titman that the First Amendment protected Prof. Lowery’s right to expression.
Despite this, the administrators ratcheted up the pressure on Carvalho and Lowery. When Carvalho again resisted calls to discipline Lowery over his speech. Dean Mills, the lead defendant in the lawsuit, threatened to remove Carvalho from his Executive Director post. “I don’t need to remind you that you serve at my pleasure,” she said. These were among the UT administration’s threats to Lowery’s “job, pay, institute affiliation, research opportunities, [and] academic freedom.”
Some in the administration even “allowed, or at least did not retract, a UT employee’s request that police surveil Lowery’s speech, because he might contact politicians or other influential people.” [emphasis mine]
Lowery has since been forced to self-censor, cutting back on his public commentary, including ending his use of Twitter. He also fears police action against him, instigated by their surveillance of his speech and his fear of broad unfounded accusations by these university officials.
Lowery is not new to these battles. In a September 2022 blacklist post I described his filing of a class-action lawsuit against Texas A&M for its discriminatory hiring policies that specifically favored minorities (except for Asians), also based on the modern racist “diversity, equity, and inclusion” movement.
It now appears his willingness to fight these policies both at his own university as well as another Texas university raised the ire of the upper management of Texas academia, which probably contributed to the effort now at UT-Austin to either silence him or get rid of him entirely. His lawsuit specifically names the three individuals who threatened him and Carvalho: Lillian Mills, Ethan Burris, and Sheridan Titman, all part of management at the McCombs School of Business.
The lawsuit strangely does not name Meeta Kothare, director of the Global Sustainability Leadership Institute (GSLI) at McCombs, or Madison Gove, an employee under Kothare at GSLI. Lowery had used his Twitter account to criticize this institute, describing it as an indoctrination tool for “left-wing activism.” Kothare had responded by trying to get Lowery’s superiors to silence him, or failing that to punish him financially. When this failed, Madison Gove, with the approval of her supervisors at GSLI and McCombs, then contacted the police, showing them Lowery’s various critical tweets and asking them to monitor his speech.
It seems these UT-Austin officials are equally at fault, and should face sanction as well for their attempts to blacklist Lowery.
Regardless, the large number of management people at UT-Austin who are eager to censor and blacklist once again tells us something about the sad state of academic freedom in academia. As I mentioned in my column yesterday, the blacklist and bigoted culture that exists in academia is deep and well ingrained. It will take many more lawsuits and the sustained courageous efforts of many people over time to change it.