Texas Professor Suspended Hours After He Criticised Lieutenant Governor In Lecture
Joy Alonzo accused by student of disparaging Dan Patrick in lecture on opioid crisis at Texas A&M University.
The Texas A&M University professor Joy Alonzo criticized the Texas lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, during a visiting lecture in March 2023 on the opioid crisis at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.
Just hours later, Alonzo learned a student accused her of disparaging Patrick during the lecture. The complaint reached her supervisors and the chancellor of Texas A&M, John Sharp, who was in communication directly with the lieutenant governor’s office.
Texas A&M University president resigns after botched hiring of Black journalist. The student is reportedly the daughter of the Texas land commissioner, Dawn Buckingham, who served in the Texas senate with Patrick for six years, received an endorsement from him in her run for land commissioner, and had attended Sharp’s wedding in May.
Less than two hours after the lecture had ended, Patrick’s chief of staff forwarded Alonzo’s professional biography to Sharp, reported the Texas Tribune. The chancellor responded to the lieutenant governor directly via text message that Alonzo would immediately be placed on administrative leave pending an investigation to fire her.
The University of Texas Medical Board quickly issued a censure statement, distancing itself from any comments Alonzo made during the lecture.
Texas A&M and the University of Texas Medical Board did not specify what Alonzo said during the lecture that prompted the investigation. Students interviewed by the Texas Tribune only recalled a vague reference to Patrick during the lecture on opioid overdose policies. Texas A&M ultimately allowed Alonzo to retain her job after the investigation did not reveal any wrongdoing.
The swift investigation sparked criticism from Alonzo’s colleagues and free speech advocates over the interference of politicians into classroom discussions and how state universities are managed.
Adam Steinbaugh, an attorney with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a non-profit legal group focused on protecting free speech on college campuses, criticized the investigation as “inappropriate” in an interview with the Tribune and noted its chilling effect, regardless of the outcome of the investigation.
Marcia Ory, a professor at Texas A&M Health and co-chair of the university’s Opioid Task Force with Alonzo, noted the long-term consequences of the interference in an email to Jon Mogford, vice-president of Texas A&M Health.
The reporting of the suspension and investigation of Alonzo comes as the Texas A&M president, Katherine Banks, resigned last week over the backlash to politically motivated outsiders halting the hiring by the university of Kathleen McElroy, a Black journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, to revive the journalism school at Texas A&M.
On Alonzo, a spokesperson for the university system told the Tribune: “It is not unusual to respond to any state official who has concerns about anything occurring at the Texas A&M System,” claiming the system followed standard procedure investigating the claim against Alonzo.