University of Texas at Austin
A tenured University of Texas at Austin professor is suing business school leaders there, alleging they threatened his career because he denounced the university’s funding and support of “left-wing” causes—and tried to draw state lawmakers’ attention to it.
On Twitter and in media outlets, Richard Lowery, associate professor of finance at the McCombs School of Business, says he has criticized the university’s approaches to affirmative action; “critical-race theory [CRT] indoctrination”; academic freedom; capitalism’s future; diversity, equity and inclusion [DEI]; and environment, sustainability and governance.
“Professor Lowery dissents from the political and academic views that are held by the majority of his peers and superiors at UT, often publicly, and sometimes uses pointed terminology to get his points across,” says his federal lawsuit, filed Wednesday. “He also does not shy from making his opinions known to elected officials in Texas, including those who oversee funding for UT.”
That “pointed language” includes an April tweet attached to the lawsuit—Lowery has since made his Twitter account private, allegedly in response to threats—in which he criticizes the business school’s Leadership in Global Sustainability minor.
“We literally have a minor in promoting left-wing activism through business, and people on the faculty council are mad that Scott Atlas was allowed to give a talk and I criticize CRT because that is ‘political’ and not academic,” he tweeted. “These people are shameless and awful.”
Lowery is also a senior fellow at the business school’s Salem Center for Policy. In March, The Austin-American Statesman wrote that the Salem Center hosted Atlas.
At the event, Atlas, a former COVID-19 adviser to President Trump, “falsely told a small crowd that COVID-19 vaccines present serious safety concerns and advocated against inoculating children,” the paper reported.
The lawsuit says Lowery and Carlos Carvalho, the Salem Center’s executive director, tried to create a “Liberty Institute” to “provide a place for the study of classical-liberal, pro–free market viewpoints on a campus, as a counterweight to the dominant critical race theory and DEI-based ideology that was metastasizing from its origins in the humanities into more evidence-based disciplines such as business, economics and STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] disciplines.”
It would have been among the conservative, or alleged conservative, centers that have been proposed or opened on university campuses.
“The Texas legislature’s 2022–23 state budget allocated $6 million in funding for the Liberty Institute, which also garnered support from private donors,” the lawsuit says. “But the enabling legislation was somewhat vague, which allowed [UT-Austin] President [Jay] Hartzell and his allies in the UT administration to hijack the project, remove its independence, re-direct its funding to existing personnel and programs and change its title to ‘Civitas.’”
In a July column on the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal’s website, Lowery proceeded to criticize Hartzell, who is not a defendant in the lawsuit, and others over the Liberty Institute situation.
“Two out of the three core donors fully assented to [Carvalho’s] exclusion from all further involvement, effectively ending any say on the part of faculty who had brought the plan together,” Lowery wrote.
“Ultimately, it was conservative politicians and donors, not Marxist faculty, who brought it down out of their unwillingness to confront a supposedly prestigious Texas institution,” he wrote.
“The extreme hostility of the faculty toward this project shows the desperate need for something serious along these lines,” he wrote. “However, with the current administration at UT-Austin, nothing will be possible without far more direct state intervention.”
He alleges Sheridan Titman, a defendant in the suit and chair of the business school’s Department of Finance, told Carvalho, “We need to do something about Richard,” and that Hartzell and Lillian Mills, the business school dean and another defendant, wanted to know if “we can ask him to tone it down.”
Ethan Burris, senior associate dean for academic affairs in the school and the final defendant, allegedly told Carvalho that “You have the power to have him not be attached to the [Salem] center”—from which Lowery earns $20,000 annually. Del Kolde, an Institute for Free Speech lawyer representing Lowery pro bono, said Lowery’s tenure protections don’t cover that appointment.
Also, the suit says, “Burris told Carvalho that he might not approve Lowery’s appointment to the center in the future because of his speech.”
Mills threatened to remove Carvalho as executive director for not disciplining Lowery, the suit says. At one point, Titman allegedly emailed Lowery to say, “You don’t seem to be making friends. It is probably in your interest to come up with a class for the Spring that is likely to be popular.”
None of the three defendants commented Friday.
“In general, the university does not comment on pending litigation,” university spokesman Brian Davis said in an email.
Employees in the business school’s Global Sustainability Leadership Institute also sent emails about Lowery, the suit says, with one writing to Mills that “I’m becoming very concerned about the safety of our events at this rate. The tweets start as soon as any poster about us goes up somewhere in the building.”
Another employee from that institute allegedly emailed a university police officer, writing “we are more worried about the people he reaches than him. Some of his supporters are authors, podcasters and politicians … Unfortunately, he switched his account to private mode today, so I cannot give you anything other than what I have. Perhaps you all can see more. The link is https://twitter.com/RichardLoweryTX.”
Lowery is asking the court to bar the defendants “from threatening Lowery for protected speech, or from implementing those threats,” including barring them from reducing his pay, “labeling his criticism as violent or uncivil,” or “asking any police agency to surveil Lowery’s speech.”
Kolde said, “We hope the court agrees with us and issues an injunction to protect his rights to speak.”