North Texas Daily

Professor sues university, coworkers, students amidst accusations of racism

Professor sues university, coworkers, students amidst accusations of racism

Professor sues university, coworkers, students amidst accusations of racism
January 29
14:16 2021

College of Music Professor Timothy Jackson filed a lawsuit on Jan. 14 against the university, as well as 18 individual defendants, after being removed as the co-editor of the Journal of Schenkerian Studies over accusations of racism.

Jackson alleges the university is violating his constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. His suit, filed in the District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, also states he is seeking relief against individuals who allegedly defamed him by calling him a racist.

“[My] client seeks to be made whole from all who have damaged him and his reputation with false statements of racism and the retaliation against his right to speak and publish freely on matters of public concern,” Michael Allen, one of Jackson’s attorneys, said.

Jackson did not respond to requests for comment.

The controversy and following lawsuit came out of recent discourse surrounding the work of Heinrich Schenker, a music theorist whose branch of analysis is known as Schenkerian studies. On Nov. 9, 2019, City University of New York associate professor Phillip Ewell delivered a plenary address at the Society of Music Theory’s annual meeting. Ewell called for the dismantling of a white racial frame in music theory and argued that Schenker’s known white supremacism and German nationalism informed his work in the music theory field.

In response to Ewell, Jackson organized a symposium for the 12th volume of the Journal of Schenkerian Studies. Members of the Society of Music Theory submitted papers addressing Ewell’s argument. Five of the published papers discussed Ewell’s argument favorably while 10 papers heavily criticized it.

In Jackson’s own paper, “A Preliminary Response to Ewell,” he wrote a “fundamental reason for the paucity of African-American women and men in the field of music theory is that few grow up in homes where classic music is profoundly valued.”

“It’s awful to know that a professor from this college that I hold in such high esteem has said something like that,” music education junior Ryan King said. “His response to Ewell was blatantly racist and classist.”

Jackson accused Ewell of antisemitism for not recognizing Schenker’s Jewish identity. Jackson cited studies that alleged “Blacks are more likely than whites to hold anti-Semitic views,” according to the suit.

“Here, the mob, including the Defendants, openly tried to get Professor Jackson fired by falsely accusing him of being a ‘racist’ in violation of UNT policies, the Texas constitution and the First Amendment,” Allen said.

A group of College of Music graduate students released a public statement condemning Jackson’s writings in the journal. A group of faculty from the Division of Music History, Theory and Ethnomusicology, of which Jackson is a member, also released a similar statement. Some of the students and all of the faculty members who signed the statements are named in the suit.

“The fact that it’s even possible for a professor to sue their own student for criticizing them is absurd,” King said. “It’s a very far stretch of free speech. I plan to go to graduate school and the possibility that I could be sued by a professor is worrying.”

A majority of the individual defendants did not respond to the Daily’s requests for comment, while two declined.

The College of Music launched a formal investigation into the creation of the 12th volume of the journal. The ad hoc panel “[did] not find that the standards of best practice in scholarly publication were observed” and Jackson was subsequently removed from the publication. Jackson, a tenured professor, continues to hold his teaching position in the college.

“At this time, UNT officials are not discussing the pending litigation,” Jim Berscheidt, Vice President of University Brand Strategies and Communications, said on behalf of university administrators.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Ileana Garnand

Ileana Garnand

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