UT Austin Sued Over First Amendment Violations

The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) has become a frequent point of discussion at the National Association of Scholars (NAS). My colleague, John Sailer, recently wrote a full-length report on the rise of “Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity” (DIE) at UT Austin, and I wrote an article for the Austin Journal on the DIE initiatives at UT Austin’s Dell Medical School. Now, to continue the conversation, Dr. Richard Lowery—a friend of the NAS and professor of finance at UT Austin’s McCombs School of Business—has filed a lawsuit against the university for First Amendment violations.

In a complaint filed in the Austin federal court, Lowery said that administrators violated his constitutional right to criticize government officials and harmed his right to academic freedom. Lowery is well known for his commentary on university affairs, and his articles have appeared in various media outlets such as The Hill, the Texas Tribune, the Houston Chronicle, and The College Fix. His criticisms of critical race theory, affirmative action, DIE-based performance measures, and more make him no friend of university bureaucrats, and when he critiqued DIE initiatives, some UT Austin administrators “responded with a campaign to silence Lowery,” as his lawyers wrote in the complaint.

That censorial campaign began with administrators pressuring Carlos Carvalho, another professor at the McCombs School, to punish Lowery for his views. Carvalho refused to convey this threat to Lowery, and administrators increased the pressure. Lillian Mills, dean of the McCombs school and lead defendant in the lawsuit, threatened to remove Carvalho from his post if he refused to comply. “I don’t need to remind you that you serve at my pleasure,” the dean wrote. According to the complaint, some administrators either “allowed, or at least did not retract, a UT [Austin] employee’s request that police surveil Lowery’s speech, because he might contact politicians or other influential people.”

[Related: “Lowery v. Texas A&M University System: The Beginning of the End of DEI Discrimination?”]

Attorneys at the Institute for Free Speech, a nonpartisan First Amendment advocacy group, are representing Lowery in court, along with attorney Michael E. Lovins of the Austin law firm Lovins Trosclair. “Professors at public universities have the right to criticize administrators and speak to elected officials,” said Del Kolde, a senior attorney at the Institute for Free Speech. “The First Amendment protects such speech and, in a free society, DEI programs and [UT Austin’s] president are not above public criticism.”

UT Austin administrators surely know that, but, as Lowery’s lawyers allege, they “acted to retaliate against Lowery for his protected speech because it was embarrassing to them,” and because they “feared the possibility of elected officials scrutinizing their behavior.” That fear is increasingly justified as taxpayers awaken to the problems in our nation’s universities, and especially since Texas Governor Abbott’s office recently sent a letter to state agencies—including public universities—to inform them that their DIE programs are illegal. We wish Lowery and his lawyers well in their lawsuit, and hope that the Lone Star State rids itself of the ideological infection plaguing its educational system. May justice prevail.

Image: Adobe Stock


  • Mason Goad

    Mason Goad is a research fellow at the National Association of Scholars, investigating DEI in STEM education and research. He can be contacted on Twitter (@GoadMason) or via email at goad@nas.org.

2 thoughts on “UT Austin Sued Over First Amendment Violations

  1. One other thing that is quite noticeable by its absence is any mention of the AAUP.

    So I went to the AAUP’s website and found that they’d not only affiliated with the AFT https://www.aaup.org/about/aaupaft-affiliation (the AFT and the NEA are the two national K-12 teacher’s unions) but are suing the State of Oklahoma over OK’s new law banning DIE being taught.

    This gem in particular is worth reading: https://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/Wood_JAF13.pdf

    So much for an organization that purports to champion academic freedom.

  2. “… police surveil Lowery’s speech, because he might contact politicians or other influential people.”

    It’s not the police but the campus IT department, and call me cynical (or paranoid) but I always operate on the presumption that this *is* happening.

    Hence one must take two precautions — neither let your voice telephone calls nor your computer traffic (both email and web browsing) ever touch the campus network at any time.

    This means buy your own cell phone and make sure that you aren’t connected to the campus wifi (or any wifi). “Burner” phones such as Tracfones are great although even they have GPS and hence create a record of where you (or the phone) was at any given time. Hence you remove the battery (turning it off isn’t enough) and then there won’t be a record of where you went.

    As to smartphones, again do NOT connect to any Wifi as a lot of the “free” community wifis actually go through the university. (You can tell by tracking down the IP addresses that are assigned to you when you connect as well as doing a traceroute back to an on-campus computer, but if you aren’t familiar with this, just avoid free wifi — someone else has access to it.)

    So you want to make sure you are paying for your data.

    And as to laptops, the most secure way of doing this is to first shut off your wifi (often “airplane mode”) and then purchase a device and plan from a cell phone company — it’s a little black box that you plug into a USB port and the cell phone company assigns you your IP address.

    Remember that who ever owns your IP address owns your data — and while the cell phone companies can be subpoenaed if you actually do something, it’s far more difficult than just having someone in IT monitoring you.

    And as to desktop computers, you need to unplug the network cable — actually anything coming out of the wall — although you will never know that the institution hasn’t installed spyware on your computer. So buy a $200-$300 laptop at Walmart or Staples.

    And never, EVER, connect your laptop or smart phone to any university computer or network. Think sterile computing, in that it never touches anything else.

    And don’t use your office printer to print anything secret because (a) it usually is connected over the network and (b) if color, is printing the printer’s serial number in tiny yellow numbers. (The USSS asked for this when high resolution color printing first arrived to prevent people from printing counterfeit money.)

    Three examples to show that I am not completely paranoid.

    1: Back in the 1990s, someone leaked the grades of the UMass Basketball Team to the Boston Globe — both a FERPA violation and quite embarrassing to the university because at least four of the star players were on academic probation. Boston is a toll call from Amherst and what UMass did was go through *all* the long distance records looking for anyone who had made a call to any of the Boston Globe’s numbers. (This was before cell phones, so they only had to search for the Globe’s landlines.)

    2: Remember Nabster? Universities keep a record of whom they have assigned IP addresses to, and as memory is now quite cheap, they preserve this information for some time for a variety of reasons, including diagnostic. Hence when the RIAA sent complaints about specific IP addresses downloading music at a specific date and time, the universities could just look up who had the IP address.

    Even if you manage to connect to the network without identifying yourself, your computer has a .nic (network) card with a unique serial number. It has to and the network has to know the number in order for TCP/IP to work (i.e. to connect). One of the things that most large universities now do is keep a record of the card serial numbers of stolen computers and wait for them to appear on the network, at which point the campus police are sent to the specific location.

    An IP address is similar to a phone number (with country code and the rest included). It often appears in places where you wouldn’t expect it, such as the header information on emails — and the header information is often not visible unless you specifically ask your mail program to show it to you. Memory is that some of the Word .docx files also have it, although that may only be the ones that are shared. This is what should have gotten Hillary Clinton into trouble, as her private server had to have its own IP address, which would then be in header info.

    3: The UMass Police built a new, expensive, and quite unneeded police station which had hallway security cameras. There are two models, a $100 one which only records video, and a $700 one which records both video and audio. It’s physically the same camera, but if you pay the extra $600 per unit, the vendor will turn the audio on. And Massachusetts is a two-party audio state.

    Well, it turns out that the audio was turned on without the officers knowing it, and — worse — one of the cameras could hear conversations in the restroom that the officers used. (They found out about this one night when a civilian dispatcher showed them it — and the union filed a lawsuit over it.)

    My question — and that of others — was that you really don’t notice the difference between $100 and $700 when you are buying a whole bunch of something? Or was this not accidental?

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