Lowery v. Mills

August 2022
The University of Texas at Austin (Public college or university)
Austin, TX

Identity of Speakers

  • Richard Lowery

    Associate Professor of Finance


Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
    Social media
  • Incident Political Orientation:
    Right wing
  • Incident Responses:
  • Incident Status:
    In litigation Federal District Court
  • Did not involve Speech Codes


A conservative University of Texas professor has sued three officials in the McCombs School of Business, accusing them of violating his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him for his criticism of the university.

Richard Lowery, an associate professor of finance, alleges that his public criticism of the university, including against the school’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, prompted officials to threaten his job status and academic freedom, according to the lawsuit filed last week in federal district court.

The suit names as the defendants Lillian Mills, dean of the McCombs School of Business; Ethan Burris, senior associate dean for academic affairs; and Sheridan Titman, chair of the finance department.

UT spokesperson Brian Davis said the university generally does not comment on pending litigation. Mills, Burris, Titman and a spokesperson for the McCombs School of Business did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

According to the suit, Lowery’s criticisms include calling UT’s use of affirmative action in admissions policy “vile” and “racist,” characterizing the school’s use of DEI grants as the “diversion of state resources to political advocacy,” and criticizing the university for its approach to “critical-race theory indoctrination.”

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He has also criticized how UT developed the Civitas Institute, formerly known as the Liberty Institute, and the Global Sustainability Leadership Institute at the McCombs School of Business, accusing it of promoting “left-wing activism” through its global sustainability minor. The suit also accuses the Global Sustainability Leadership Institute of training “activists to use corporations to promote DEI-based ideology.”

According to the Global Sustainability Leadership Institute’s website, the institute aims to develop “leadership and solutions that address critical sustainability challenges and shape an inclusive, regenerative global economy and society.”

Lowery used his Twitter account to post some of his criticisms and “tagged” the accounts of elected officials such as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott in the tweets, which would directly notify the accounts of the tweet. He also has shared his views in several news publications, such as The Texas Tribune and the Houston Chronicle, the suit states.

According to the lawsuit, Mills, Burris and Titman responded to Lowery’s criticism by pressuring him and Carlos Carvalho, executive director of the Salem Center for Policy, into “censoring Lowery’s speech.” Lowery is also an associate director at the Salem Center for Policy, which is an institute in the McCombs School of Business focused on the study of free enterprise and markets.

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The suit alleges that Burris told Carvalho that he might not approve Lowery’s future appointment to the center, which comes with a $20,000 stipend, because of his speech, and Mills threatened to remove Carvalho from his position when he resisted calls to discipline Lowery over his speech.

The lawsuit claims that Titman forwarded Lowery an email from Meeta Kothare, the managing director of the Global Sustainability Leadership Institute, who was expressing concern about the safety of the institute’s events and relief that Lowery had not tagged politicians in the tweet.

When forwarding the email, the suit said, Titman wrote Lowery, “You don’t seem to be making friends. It is probably in your interest to come up with a class for the Spring that is likely to be popular,” which Lowery interpreted as a threat.

Due to the various “threats” from the defendants, Lowery voluntarily set his Twitter account to private, which prohibits anyone who isn’t following the account from seeing any tweets, and also chose to stop tweeting entirely in August 2022, according to the suit. He also has “curtailed his public speech critical of the UT Administration because of Defendants’ threats,” according to the suit.

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Lowery fears that UT will not renew his appointment as the associate director at the Salem Center for Policy and will remove his supervisory role at the Policy Research Lab if he continues his public criticism, according to the suit.

“Defendants’ threats to reduce Lowery’s pay, involuntarily end his affiliation with the Salem Center, reduce his access to research opportunities … or otherwise discipline him are designed to silence Lowery’s criticisms or change the content of this speech to make it less critical, disagreeable, or offensive,” the suit said.

He is seeking attorneys’ fees and for the court to prohibit any of the named UT officials from threatening him for his speech, removing his job responsibilities or engaging in any other action that would keep him “from engaging in protected speech.” He also wants the court to declare that the “threats against Lowery amounted to unconstitutional state action designed to chill Lowery’s protected speech and retaliate against him.”

Taken from Austin American-Statesman