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UT Austin professor arrested and fired after confronting police at pro-Palestinian protest

 Rich Heyman talks to police at the April 29 protest at UT Austin.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
Rich Heyman talks to police at the April 29 protest at UT Austin.

The Texas Department of Public Safety arrested a UT Austin professor Wednesday after he allegedly grabbed a state trooper’s bicycle and shouted expletives at officers during a pro-Palestinian protest last week. The professor has since been fired by UT.

The story was first reported by the Austin American-Statesman.

State police last week accused Rich Heyman, a lecturer who teaches courses in the Department of American Studies and the College of Liberal Arts, of interfering with public duties. This is a Class B misdemeanor, according to state penal code. KUT reached out to Heyman, but he referred reporters to his lawyer, Gerry Morris. Morris said Heyman, who was not tenured, received an email from the university on Thursday stating that he was fired. No reason was given.

Heyman, 57, attended pro-Palestinian protests on the university's South Lawn on April 29. Over several hours that day, police arrested 79 people, charging the vast majority of them with criminal trespass. In total, more than 130 arrests have been made on the UT Austin campus over the past several weeks of protests.

According to a state trooper’s account detailed in an arresting document, Heyman approached police during last week's protest and began shouting obscenities. “F--- you. You don’t belong here,” police allege he said.

As officers surrounded protesters on the university's South Lawn, they used their bicycles to set up a blockade. State trooper Thomas Goodson alleged that Heyman walked between two bicycles and the officer pushed him away “with an open hand to the chest."

Goodson said Heyman responded by holding a Nalgene water bottle above his head and pulling on Goodson’s bicycle, breaking his state-issued bike bell, which cost $62. Morris, Heyman's lawyer, refutes this narrative. He said Heyman grabbed the officer's bicycle to stop himself from falling backward after the officer pushed him.

State troopers arrested Heyman outside his home on Wednesday afternoon. Officers surrounded him while he was driving, Morris said.

A spokesperson for UT Austin said the university does not comment on personnel matters. Texas DPS did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Heyman had previously attended another rally where faculty gathered to condemn the university's response to a pro-Palestinian protest the day before. Police made 57 arrests. Eventually, the Travis County Attorney dropped all the charges.

"[UT Austin President Jay Hartzell] didn't explain how the decision was made to call in the riot troops that provoked violence from what was a nonviolent, peaceful protest," Heyman told a KUT reporter that day.

Heyman was scheduled to teach three university classes in the fall, two of which are waitlisted, according to a review of UT Austin’s course catalog.

“These are really essential classes in his program, and he has a long track record of employment with the university,” said Anne Lewis, an executive board member of the Texas State Employees Union. “He’s an accomplished, needed employee at the university.”

Lewis confirmed Friday that Heyman had been in touch with the organization for legal resources. Heyman has worked at UT Austin since 2006, according to his résumé.

Lewis said UT Austin’s actions during the recent protests are part of a larger pattern of the university over-complying with the state Legislature and neglecting workers’ rights. Lewis pointed to the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion-related layoffs last month.

“It’s a real over-response on the part of the university and a lack of understanding of the rights of employees to free expression, to assembly, and to association," she said. "If [UT Austin] did this, they can do anything."

Morris, Heyman's lawyer, said he felt the university's firing of Heyman was also an overstep.

"I'm really disappointed in my alma mater," Morris told KUT. "You would think they would wait and investigate the incident. ... They just want to appear tough."

Professors at universities across the country have been arrested while protesting, including at UCLA, Emory University and Dartmouth College. It's unclear if other professors have been fired.

Lauren McGaughy and Chelsey Zhu contributed to this story.

KUT journalists are employees of the University of Texas, but UT has no editorial control over their reporting.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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