North Texas Daily

Professor who sued university has preliminary win in court

Professor who sued university has preliminary win in court

Professor who sued university has preliminary win in court
February 11
11:30 2022

A year after College of Music Professor Timothy Jackson filed a lawsuit against the university after being removed as the co-editor of an academic journal over accusations of racism, the court denied the university’s request to dismiss the lawsuit. 

Jackson had sued the university for violating his right to free speech and sued 18 individual defendants for defamation. On Jan. 18, District Judge Amos L. Mazzant found that Jackson successfully showed a plausible First Amendment violation, ruling against the university’s request for a summary dismissal of Jackson’s lawsuit against the university. 

“We think the decision the judge ordered is very strong,” said Michael Allen, one of Jackson’s attorneys. 

This preliminary win for Jackson’s team keeps the case alive and allows Jackson to move forward with the lawsuit. 

“The court’s ruling was not a decision on the merits of the plaintiff’s claims,” said Leigh Anne Gullett, the university’s associate director of Reputation Management. “Attorneys for the university are reviewing the court’s complex ruling and considering our options as we continue to defend this lawsuit.”

A key point brought up by Jackson’s team at the evidentiary hearing was that other academic journals run by the university display acts of editorial mismanagement, which is what Jackson was accused of in the Journal of Schenkerian Studies, Allen said. According to Jackson, the university applied a double standard: it criticized his journal for publishing a piece by an anonymous author but did not punish COM journal Theorea for doing the same thing.

“It sounds like they can publish whatever they want in this other journal run by UNT and no one cares about that,” Allen said. “But once Timothy publishes something that’s controversial, then the whole house comes down.” 

The North Texas Daily previously detailed the events that lead up to the lawsuit. In 2019, Jackson wrote a response to Professor Philip Ewell who criticized Heinrich Schenker, a music theorist whose branch of analysis is known as Schenkerian studies, for his history of white supremacism. Jackson’s response included statements that several students found racially insensitive, causing them to release a public statement condemning his actions. 

“All he really did was have the audacious courage to say ‘I don’t think the entire tradition of western music is automatically racist,’” Allen said. 

A group of faculty from the Division of Music History, Theory and Ethnomusicology released a public statement as well. All of the faculty members who signed the statement are now defendants in the suit. Jackson said Ewell’s statements regarding Schenker were false and misleading and believes Schenker’s Jewish identity has been erased during this “controversy.”

Other scholars are now speaking out about Professor Philip Ewell’s false and misleading claims regarding the music theorist Heinrich Schenker,” Jackson said. “Ewell reconstructed Schenker in order to de-Judaize him as a ‘white supremacist.’ It did not matter that Schenker’s Jewish identity, his profound Jewish faith and culture, were ‘whited out’ in the process.”

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

In the motion denial, the court found that “given the relaxed standing requirements in First Amendment cases, [the] Plaintiff has established a cognizable injury. [The] plaintiff has been de facto removed from the Journal he founded and therefore cannot engage in the speech he wishes to express.” 

Allen said the next step moving forward is discovery, the second and longest phase of any case, in which the plaintiff and defendants investigate the facts of a case, gather documents, and prepare for trial. 

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

Jan. 18 Motion to dismiss denied

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Jillian Nachtigal

Jillian Nachtigal

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