By Serena Ayers
Incendiary has received information that the University of Texas at Austin (UT) is taking steps to retaliate against student and community organizers who have confronted predatory and sexist professors, including Classics Professor and pedophilia advocate Thomas K. Hubbard and sexual predator Sahotra Sarkar, a professor of philosophy.
UT administration is using the school’s recently formed “Misconduct Working Group” to seek information on and intimidate other students from working with groups such as Fire the Abusers and revolutionary organization Popular Women’s Movement – Movimiento Femenino Popular (PWM).
Sources in attendance at the first Misconduct Working Group meeting on December 11 shared that Soncia Reagins-Lilly, UT’s Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, would be working with the Austin Police Department (APD) to apprehend members of Fire the Abusers and others who protested Hubbard at his home. She implied the group was controlled by PWM, who she then accused of vandalizing his home and throwing a brick through his window the night before the house protest, an act for which neither PWM nor Fire the Abusers has claimed credit.
Rather than address their own protection of abusers, UT put the demonstration against Hubbard at the top of the meeting agenda, with administration officials and their legal team spending the bulk of the time building a case to criminalize student and community protesters. They culminated the discussion on the Hubbard protest by stating that the university fears releasing the names of professors with records of sexual misconduct due to the organizing by Fire the Abusers.
One source at the meeting told Incendiary, “I couldn’t believe that they were using this working group that was meant to protect students from abusers to target the students that are standing up against [the professors].”
Representatives from Husch-Blackwell, an outside law firm hired by the University, further condemned and criminalized PWM, claiming that the organization had held, “violent, unproductive protests” and “aren’t protected by the First Amendment.” Scott Schneider, and attorney with the firm, told students, “If you’re affiliated with this group, don’t be. If you aren’t, good job.” When directly asked by a member of the working group if there was any evidence that PWM or Fire the Abusers had carried out the vandalism, he baselessly claimed that there was.
Due to the focus on militant organizers, the working group did not have time to discuss its planned “town hall” meeting, one of the main purposes of the group’s creation. The administration is seeking to divide students into those who they consider appropriate protesters and those they can’t control, such as Fire the Abusers, which has maintained its independence from the University’s process. Additionally, by painting Fire the Abusers, which was initiated by students themselves, as a front for PWM, they seek to use the specter of “outside agitators” to delegitimize the direct confrontation of abusers and predators.
The Misconduct Working Group is UT’s bureaucratic response to the mass outrage and resistance that students have demonstrated over the past two months of protest and direct action against professors with records of sexual misconduct and those who push historically backwards ideas in support of sexual abuse.
UT claims the group was formed with the initiative to “better address Title IX and misconduct issues at UT in response to student concerns.” In short, the group is working to refine and reform policies so faculty and staff can better understand what behavior will get them in trouble, while doing nothing to address those who are already known to be sexist, predatory, and a danger to students.
Although it was created to respond to the students’ concerns, less than half the members of the Misconduct Working Group are actually students, with most being either staff, faculty, or administration, including members of UT’s legal team. In addition, students with open Title IX (a law that prevents discrimination in education based on sex) cases are not allowed membership, as it would be considered a “conflict of interest.”
The inclusion of Husch-Blackwell, the outside law firm that specializes in Title IX issues and “risk management concerns within Student Affairs,” further demonstrates that the Misconduct Working Group is merely a spectacle to protect the University from legal ramifications, and not protect students from abusers. Husch-Blackwell has done similar work for other colleges, including on behalf of Texas A&M University, that results in little more than expensive reports.
In addition to the farce of the working group, student organizers have reported that the university has called in at least one student of Professor Sahotra Sarkar’s class for a disciplinary hearing, alleging her participation in the disruption of his class in late November. Organizers believe that Sarkar himself reported the student.
Some students have taken it on themselves to make Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking the names of professors who violated sexual misconduct policies, but have been stonewalled by the administration, which cites their fear for the physical safety of professors. All public institutions and government agencies are ostensibly required to comply with FOIA requests to provide any information that is of a public nature, which government employee records would fall under.
Through their campaign of retaliation, the backwards leaders and staff members of UT wish to punish young women who rebel against a sexist society, and equate women’s unapologetic resistance to the very abusers who prey on them. The administration, in trying to exact revenge, has shown their fear of the masses, while the students and militants that continue to organize and fight back show they are unafraid of the ruling class’s attempts to rein them in. The reactionary officials and sexist professors of bourgeois universities are correct to be afraid.