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A University of Texas at Austin professor has sued Texas A&M University claiming a new faculty fellowship program designed to increase diversity at the flagship university in College Station discriminates against white and Asian male candidates.
Richard Lowery, a finance professor at UT-Austin who is white, filed the federal class-action lawsuit on Saturday against the Texas A&M University System and its board of regents; Annie McGowan, Texas A&M’s vice president and associate provost for diversity; and N.K. Anand, Texas A&M’s vice president for faculty affairs.
Lowery is represented by America First Legal — a group created by Stephen Miller, a policy adviser for former President Donald Trump, and Jonathan Mitchell, a former solicitor general for Texas and the legal architect of the state’s six-week abortion ban.
In the lawsuit, Lowery claims that a new fellowship program announced this summer within Texas A&M’s faculty hiring program called the Accountability, Climate, Equity and Scholarship Faculty Fellows Program, or ACES, violates Title VI and Title IX of the federal Civil Rights Act as well as the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
While the ACES program focuses on hiring recently graduated doctoral students who want to enter academia, the new ACES Plus Program focuses on “mid-career and senior tenure-track hires from underrepresented minority groups, that contribute to moving the structural composition of our faculty towards parity with that of the State of Texas.” It sets aside $2 million over the next two fiscal years to help match a fellow’s base salary and benefits, up to a maximum of $100,000.
According to Texas A&M’s announcement of the new fellowship program on July 8, the university identified underrepresented groups as African Americans, Hispanic and Latino Americans, Native Americans, Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians.
“Texas A&M’s proclaimed goal of establishing a faculty whose racial composition attains ‘parity with that of the state of Texas’ seeks to achieve racial balancing, which is flatly illegal under Title VI and the binding precedent of the Supreme Court,” the lawsuit argues.
The lawsuit also accuses Texas A&M of setting aside faculty positions specifically for “underrepresented” racial groups. It points to an August email sent by an unnamed business professor to the head of the recruiting committee for the department of finance, Shane A. Johnson.
“I heard from someone that one of our lines is reserved for an ‘underrepresented minority.’ Is that correct?” the email read, according to a copy included as an exhibit in the lawsuit. Johnson replied later that day, “The underrepresented line would potentially be a third position, so yes reserved, but not one of our ‘regular’ positions.”
The lawsuit says, “Professor Lowery sues on behalf of a class of all white and Asian men who stand ‘able and ready’ to apply for faculty appointments at Texas A&M.”
In a statement, Texas A&M system spokesperson Laylan Copelin called the legal filing an “unusual job application when Mr. Lowery says in the lawsuit he is ‘able and ready’ to apply for a faculty appointment at Texas A&M. But our lawyers will review the lawsuit, confer with Texas A&M and take appropriate action as warranted.”
During the fall 2021 semester, 2,658 out of a total of 4,869 faculty were white, while 180 faculty members were Black and 335 faculty members were Hispanic, according to Texas A&M’s data.
According to Texas A&M’s diversity plan, the ACES Faculty Fellows Program promotes the research, teaching and scholarship of early career scholars who embrace the belief that diversity is an indispensable component of academic excellence,” the website reads. “From this experience at Texas A&M, fellows should develop an understanding of the value of diversity and inclusion and the power that it holds for students, faculty, and staff to enrich their lives.”
On its webpage for the larger ACES program, Texas A&M encourages “women, minorities, and members of other underrepresented groups” to apply and says they will be actively sought.
Lowery has been at UT-Austin since 2009. He was one of the professors involved in the genesis of a new think tank at UT-Austin, which was previously referred to as the Liberty Institute. The new center, now called the Civitas Institute, focuses on programs that “facilitate inquiry into the foundational principles of a free and enduring society: individual rights and civic virtue, constitutionalism and the rule of law, and free enterprise and markets,” according to UT-Austin’s website.
The plaintiff’s lawyers are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief from the court on behalf of Lowery. They also want a court monitor appointed to oversee the university’s diversity office and faculty hiring.
Disclosure: Texas A&M University, the Texas A&M University System and the University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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