Persecuted music professor Timothy Jackson of the University of North Texas (UNT) has won an early battle in the courts. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant has ruled against UNT’s request for a summary dismissal of Jackson’s lawsuit against UNT. Every scholar who seeks redress against academic persecution should take heart from this development.
In September 2020, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) published an account of how a large number of faculty and graduate students initiated a social media campaign against Professor Timothy Jackson of the University of North Texas (UNT), demanding that he be sanctioned and removed from his tenured position at UNT. The participants in this campaign included music theorists nationwide, as well as faculty and graduate students at UNT. The campaign against Jackson was based on his defense of the music theorist Heinrich Schenker, and by extension modern music theory as a whole, from the spurious charge of “systemic racism.” This mob sought to punish Jackson harshly for exercising his right to free speech on an academic subject matter within his professional competence—and for saying what any fair-minded observer would take to be the common-sense truth.
Unfortunately, UNT decided to endorse the persecution of Jackson. An academic committee stated that Jackson had failed to act according to best professional practices in his editorial role at the Journal of Schenkerian Studies. They required him to cease his affiliation with the Journal, knowing that the Journal would likely collapse as a result. Jackson initiated a lawsuit against the University of North Texas to seek redress for the harm done to him. (See also FIRE’s account of Jackson’s lawsuit.)
UNT’s first response was simply to ask Judge Mazzant to dismiss the case—to say that Jackson had suffered no harm, had no standing to sue, and could not sue a public institution. Judge Mazzant roundly rejected all these arguments. Jackson has suffered harm, he has standing, and a public university has no legal immunity for such actions.
This is only the beginning—only now can the actual legal arguments proceed. But it matters very much that judges in our legal system affirm that professors have recourse to something beyond the universities’ Star Chambers. Professors around America should be encouraged by Judge Mazzant’s ruling.
So too should all citizens. Woke persecution, after all, has escaped from the universities into the republic as a whole. It is good to know that the courts can still champion our liberties.
David Randall is Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.
Image: Adam Jones, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain