UT Austin Administrators Tried to Punish Professor over Anti-DEI Crusade. He’s Fighting Back

University of Texas at Austin finance professor Richard Lowery has annoyed the university's administration by publicly criticizing its embrace of diversity, equity, and inclusion and suggesting that administrators exploit their positions for their children's admission.

Lowery's crusade did not go unnoticed: Several university administrators — and the university president, Jay Hartzell — responded with a "campaign to silence" the professor, which included threatening his job, salary, professional affiliations, and research opportunities, according to a lawsuit Lowery filed against the administrators.

Lowery embraces that his views are unpopular on campus. His bio on his now-private Twitter account reads: "All opinions are mine and almost certainly diametrically opposed to those of my employer."

Lowery became unpopular on campus by criticizing the UT Austin's sprawling DEI bureaucracy, which costs $13 million annually in salaries alone. The UT Austin "Faculty Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Strategic Plan" requires that "all members of faculty search committees must participate in diverse hiring training" and invests $3 million over four years to support "recruitment and hiring of faculty contributing to diversity, equity, and inclusion."

The focus on DEI is exemplified by a UT Austin research program that offers a voluntary four-week study for white four- and five-year-old children and their white caregivers to learn about "anti-Black racism." Lowery criticized the project in an op-ed for the College Fix, writing, "Imagine if such training were to be focused only on black preschool-aged children, a subset the researchers deemed deficient in patriotism."

In response to Lowery's public criticism of the university, Hartzell and several senior administrators pressured his supervisor at the Salem Center — a research center at the business school of UT Austin — to discipline him, according to the lawsuit. (While he likely couldn't be fired from his tenured position as a professor, Lowery's role at the Salem Center came with a $20,000-a-year stipend and is renewed annually.)

"The Lowery suit matters for all of us — he makes serious allegations that the dean of the business school and the Finance Department chair pressured the head of UT's Salem Center, that supports his research, to discipline him for his extra-mural speech about University of Texas policy," John Londregan, a professor at Princeton University and member of the Academic Freedom Alliance, told National Review. "He further asserts that the Dean of Academic Affairs threatened to end his appointment to the Salem Center, again in retaliation for his expressed viewpoint. The alleged attempt to intimidate Lowery into silence, if it happened, would overstep the bounds of academic freedom and, if substantiated, it would lower the stature of one of our country’s flagship public universities."

Richard Lowery and his lawyer, Endel Kolde with the Institute for Free Speech, declined to comment for the article.

Lowery effectively started a media campaign after UT Austin administrators quashed a research institute that he had approval to establish. In 2021, he decided with Carlos Carvalho, a statistics professor and director of the Salem Center, to build the Liberty Institute, which was intended to be an independent program expanding on the Salem Center and insulated from the university's DEI-related policies, including hiring practices.

"We needed the ability to offer students a different perspective in their classes than they're getting currently from core classes in the university," Lowery said on a podcast of the origins of the Liberty Institute. "We started this freshman seminar to fulfill one of the requirements, . . . so 50 students a year get to see something that isn't nuts about economic statistics."

The promising project received $6 million from the Texas legislature's 2022–23 state budget. However, the lawsuit alleges that the legislation was "vague" and allowed Hartzell, alongside other university administrators, to "hijack" the institute, rename it, remove its independence, and redistribute the funding.

"Either the government could have come in and insisted that the original plan be followed, or potential donors could have presented a united front to demand follow-through and the creation of a meaningful institute," Lowery wrote in an article, published in July 2022, describing the "spectacular failure" of the Liberty Institute. "Instead, everyone caved completely to the university."

"If you like the work I am doing, please support it by NOT GIVING MONEY TO UNIVERSITIES," Lowery wrote on social media in 2021. “If you are a person of means, please support me by not giving large amounts of money to universities. Consider a superyacht instead. I have heard good things about superyachts."

In addition to writing about the disastrous initiative, Lowery shared controversial criticisms of the university in op-eds, podcast appearances, and social-media posts. His remarks attracted the attention of university administrators, even prompting university president Jay Hartzell and his deputy Nancy Brazzil to correspond with a UT Austin lawyer for advice about the First Amendment and Lowery in June 2022, according to a privilege log released during the discovery process.

"Self-interested administrators find themselves in the interesting position of working hard to disadvantage in the admissions process people with the same identity profile as their own children — though, of course, this disadvantage seldom reaches to their children themselves," Lowery wrote in the Washington Times, published in June 2022.

Lowery submitted in writing to the court that he had "Hartzell in mind as an example" of one of the administrators he referred to in the Washington Times article. Lowery knew from Carvalho that, in 2020, Hartzell emailed an attachment of his son Robert's curriculum vitae to Carvalho. Hartzell's deputy Nancy Brazzil later called Carvalho to explain that Robert was applying for graduate admission in philosophy. Carvalho sent the curriculum vitae to a philosophy scholar affiliated with the Salem Center; Robert Hartzell is currently a graduate student in philosophy at UT Austin.

Although the Washington Times article about the university's admissions policies did not explicitly name Hartzell or his son, Lowery has directly criticized Hartzell on other occasions.

"The sole qualification for being a president of a university in a red state is that you're good at lying to Republicans," Lowery said on a podcast hosted by Richard Hanania, who was a visiting fellow at the Salem Center. Hartzell "manages to get the donors convinced that we [Lowery and Carvalho] are the problem."

The podcast appearance apparently annoyed Hartzell, who complained about Lowery to an administrator at a reception the day after the podcast was released. That administrator, Sheridan Titman, chair of the McCombs School's Department of Finance, acknowledged in oral deposition that Hartzell "did grumble about something [Lowery] said, but he wasn't that explicit."

"He [Hartzell] says, 'Yeah, Richard is being a pain,' or something like that," Titman recalled in his deposition, portions of which are publicly available. "I had no idea what he was talking about at the time it didn't make a whole lot of sense, but now it makes perfect sense if it was the day after the podcast."

Soon after that conversation, Titman told Carvalho, "We need to do something about Richard," and wanted to see if "we can ask him to tone it down," according to Titman's deposition. Titman added that Hartzell and Lillian Mills, dean of the McCombs Business School, were upset with Lowery.

Shortly thereafter, Mills and Ethan Burris, the senior associate dean for academic affairs of the McCombs School, allegedly told Carvalho that Lowery was "crossing the line" and that the university's legal department was concerned about his speech. One of the administrators, Mills, also cited Lowery's appearance on Hanania's podcast as an example of such concerning speech.

In his deposition, Burris agreed that his goal in asking Carvalho to counsel Lowery was to get Lowery to stop making certain kinds of comments.

According to statements submitted to the court, Carvalho resisted the pressure to discipline Lowery, and Mills suggested she could remove Carvalho from his position as director of the Salem Center. (Carvalho declined to comment to National Review.)

"I don't need to remind you that you serve at my pleasure," Mills allegedly told Carvalho.

The defendants' privilege log in the lawsuit reveals that, a week before that meeting, Hartzell had initiated a text chain about Lowery with Mills, Burris, a UT Austin lawyer, and his deputy. However, Lillian Mills wrote in her sworn deposition on written questions from April, 2023, that Hartzell had never communicated with her about Lowery's appearance on the Hanania podcast or about his published writings. In December 2023, Mills submitted sworn answers to court that she had been instructed not to answer similar questions on the basis of attorney–client privilege.

As late as December 2023, the lawyers for UT Austin tried to create the impression that Jay Hartzell had no conversations about Richard Lowery's speech. However, an amended privilege log submitted to the court shows that Hartzell had conversations involving a lawyer and university administrators about Lowery's speech.

"There's a principle at stake in this lawsuit: Just because a faculty member is on a committee or has some kind of other institutional capacity, it doesn't mean that they lose free speech rights," Richard Hanania told National Review.

Lowery and Hartzell had previously clashed during faculty meetings on the design and implementation of the university's DEI policies. In an October 2021 faculty meeting, Lowery pressed Hartzell about the university's DEI hiring policies, the meaning of "inclusive," and the definition of "diversity skills." Hartzell laughed and offered vague answers.

In a November 2021 faculty meeting, Lowery and Hartzell again debated DEI policies. An abridged version is as follows:

Lowery: "Are you genuinely telling me that someone who wrote in their diversity statement 'I do not believe we should take into account race, sex, or gender for hiring or for admissions' is going to have as good a chance of getting through your diversity skills filter as someone who strongly supports those or talks about how important it is to bring people on like that? You don’t think that inhibits the hiring of people who oppose affirmative action at all?"

Hartzell: ". . . I know from last month you want to pin me down and run hypotheticals by me but I’m not gonna go through a bunch of hypotheticals with you today."

Lowery: "I’d like to get definitions. If we’re shifting the purpose of the university, we should know exactly what the purpose is."

In addition to attorney fees, Lowery is asking for a declaration from the federal court that the UT Austin committed unlawful suppression of speech and for a court order preventing the university from doing it again.

"The whole purpose of going after someone like professor Rich Lowery is to chill speech by other people on campus who might be similarly minded," Louis Bonham, an attorney who completed his undergraduate and law degrees at the UT Austin, told National Review.

“I view a lot of what Rich Lowery has said as very classic whistle-blowing," Bonham added. "He’s pointed out what UT was doing in its DEI initiatives was illegal. And UT didn't want to hear that, so it retaliated against him.”

In response to the lawsuit, attorneys for the administrators argued that Lowery has not been disciplined for his "incendiary remarks," pointing out that he has tenure, retained his position at the Salem Center, and received a raise in 2022.

As for the administrators pushing Carvalho to crack down on Lowery, their attorneys claim they wanted Lowery counseled because he "made factually incorrect statements and disparaged his colleagues" — not because he expressed anti-DEI views or hinted at Hartzell's alleged nepotism.

Jay Hartzell was added as a defendant to the case on March 28, 2024. Hartzell and the University of Texas at Austin declined to comment.

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UT Austin Administrators Tried to Punish Professor over Anti-DEI Crusade. He’s Fighting Back

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