UNT Officials Continue Assault on Academic Freedom

National Association of Scholars

Professor Timothy Jackson of the University of North Texas has recently been targeted by an academic mob. His colleagues’ grievances are 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.” The National Association of Scholars has been proud to publish Professor Jackson’s defense of his conduct.

NAS believes that the University of North Texas (UNT) should not only defend Professor Jackson’s right to speak freely on any matter of scholarly or public importance but also vindicate his professional character and explicitly reject the aspersions cast upon it. NAS President Peter Wood wrote to three separate officials at UNT, urging them to cease their “investigation” of Professor Jackson and to publicly vindicate his professional and personal character—to Benjamin Brand, Professor and Chair of the UNT Division of Music History, Theory, and Ethnomusicology; to John W. Richmond, Professor and Dean of the UNT College of Music; and to Jennifer Evans-Cowley, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Our sole reply has come from Provost Evans-Cowley, which indicates that UNT’s investigation of Professor Jackson will continue. Provost Evans-Cowley stipulates that the investigation is “a review of the journal’s processes – not of any individual,” and that “The report will be made public. Should the journal have acted entirely ‘according to academic standards’ as you suggest in your letter – then the report would indicate as such.”

While we welcome Provost Evans-Cowley’s response, we are not reassured.

1. The investigation of Professor Jackson is itself a punishment, meant to chill the speech of all professors and students.

2. Provost Evans-Cowley’s response includes the statement that “The University of North Texas is committed to academic freedom and the responsibility that goes along with this freedom. This dedication is consistent with, and not in opposition to, our commitment to diversity and inclusion and to the highest standards of scholarship and professional ethics.” Professor Jackson’s case precisely illustrates that the champions of diversity and inclusion now openly use it to censor, intimidate, and fire anyone who dares to speak freely in opposition to their stifling ideology. Universities that do not state explicitly that academic freedom takes priority over diversity and inclusion must be presumed to value diversity and inclusion over academic freedom.

3. Provost Evans-Cowley’s email response includes the troubling phrase “The panel will seek to understand whether the standards of best practice in scholarly publication were observed, and will recommend strategies to improve editorial processes where warranted.” This phrase suggests that UNT’s panel may impose censorship, perhaps nakedly in the guise of “antiracism” or “equity,” perhaps under a camouflage of “collegiality,” that would prevent Professor Jackson, or any other professor, from ever again organizing such a symposium.

We are now publishing our three original letters to Professor Brand, Dean Richmond, and Provost Evans-Cowley, written privately, as well as Provost Evans-Cowley’s response. NAS now re-iterates publicly its call that UNT end its investigation of Professor Jackson immediately, publish a letter that vindicates Professor Jackson’s professional character, state publicly that the University of North Texas commits itself foundationally to academic freedom, and reject any claim that any commitment to “combatting racism” or “academic responsibility” can or should infringe upon academic freedom. We further re-iterate our call that UNT publicly vindicate The Journal of Schenkerian Studies’ adherence to academic norms and civilities.

If UNT must continue its harassing investigation of Professor Jackson and The Journal of Schenkerian Studies, we call on the investigating panel and UNT to take the occasion to make not only a ringing defense of the professor and the journal but also a general statement that UNT will dismiss summarily all future such charges as exercises in harassment and censorship.

We further call on UNT to volunteer to pay the legal expenses that Professor Jackson has incurred so far to defend himself. UNT should do this not merely as a signal of its regret and a token of recompense for its complicity in his harassment—although that would be a sufficient reason. It should also do so as a sign that it wishes to make an effective defense of academic freedom. The academic mobs chill professors and students not least because any effective defense requires costly legal fees. UNT fails its duty to guarantee its professors’ academic freedom when it says, in effect, “You are free to go bankrupt defending yourself against a malicious assault.” UNT should pay Professor Jackson’s legal expenses as a sign that it truly wishes to defend his academic freedom—and the academic freedom of all professors.

NAS urges all citizens—and especially those with a connection to the University of North Texas—to write the officials of UNT, such as President Neal J. Smatresk, Provost Jennifer Evans-Cowley, Dean John W. Richmond, or Chair Benjamin Brand. We urge letter writers to civilly request that UNT cease its harassing investigation of Professor Jackson and The Journal of Schenkerian Studies, and publicly vindicate their character.

Image: Michael Barera, Public Domain

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