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More than 200 faculty say they’ve lost confidence in UT Austin President Jay Hartzell

People sit on the ground in front while a professor who is standing and wearing a yellow vest is speaking and behind her is a crowd of people who are participating in a protest. The UT Tower is in the background and the lower portion of the tower is visible behind them.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
Karma Chávez, a Mexican American and Latina/o studies professor at UT Austin, speaks during a pro-Palestinian walkout and protest Thursday.

UT Austin President Jay Hartzell is facing criticism from hundreds of faculty who say they've lost faith in his leadership following layoffs related to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and the police presence at a student-led pro-Palestinian protest this week.

In an open letter, the UT Austin chapter of the American Association of University Professors said they “no longer have confidence” in Hartzell.

The letter points to Hartzell's decision on April 2 to shutter the Division of Campus and Community Engagement in response to a Texas law banning diversity, equity and inclusion offices and programs at public universities and colleges, which resulted in 49 staff being laid off. The staff were no longer working on DEI initiatives when they lost their jobs and professors described the terminations as a “purge.” 

The faculty also said they no longer trust Hartzell because of his decision to call in several law enforcement agencies, including the Texas Department of Public Safety, to respond to a peaceful protest on campus Wednesday that was calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and urging the university to divest from weapons manufacturers that provide supplies to Israel.

“We think those two things are connected. Neither was done with faculty input and we are a campus that has principles of shared governance where important decisions should be made together with faculty,” UT Austin AAUP Chapter President Pauline Strong said. “These decisions both came as surprises."

Strong, an anthropology professor, has worked at UT Austin for more than 30 years. She said in that time, she has never seen the number of police on campus that she saw Wednesday during a student-led demonstration. At different points in the protest, officers surged into the crowd and pushed people to the ground before binding their hands with zip ties.

Strong said the UT Austin chapter of AAUP holds Hartzell responsible for the decision to call additional law enforcement to campus, including state troopers in riot gear and a mounted horse patrol.

“I believe that decision was an overreaction to what they knew about the student protests,” she said. “I believe the presence of the police escalated the situation from the very beginning, and I think it created a very dangerous situation for the protesters, as well as for staff and faculty, who were on campus that day.”

Strong said she is concerned to see UT Austin and colleges across the country violently squelching free speech when their campuses are dedicated to academic freedom.

“[Students] are envisioning a better world and trying to bring it about,” she said. “And, I think we are really doing ourselves a disservice as a society if we don’t listen to students and nurture them and work with them to build that better society.”

Hartzell has publicly defended the university’s response to Wednesday’s protest stating in an email to the campus community that the group organizing the protest planned to violate institutional rules.

“Our rules matter, and they will be enforced. Our University will not be occupied,” he said in the email.

An internal UT memo obtained by KUT states the university “requested additional manpower support" because of its concerns about the size of the protest and "outside disruptors.” Officers arrested 57 people, 26 of whom were unaffiliated with the university, according to UT. Charges against all of them have been dropped.

Strong said the UT Austin AAUP began circulating the open letter during a pro-Palestinian faculty-led demonstration on Thursday. So far, more than 200 faculty have signed the letter. The university employs 3,000 teaching faculty.

“What we’re doing is gauging the sentiment on campus for trust and confidence in President Hartzell,” she said.

Strong said she plans to send the signed letter to the UT Austin Faculty Council on Monday, which is the entity responsible for calling a no-confidence vote if they choose to. She said even if a vote is not called, the number of faculty signing the letter is a strong rebuke to Hartzell’s decisions this month.

“We would hope that the letter itself, whether or not it leads to a vote, is taken seriously by Hartzell and his administration as an expression of deep faculty concern about the actions he’s taken this month,” she said.

Strong added that even if there is a successful no-confidence vote, faculty do not have the power to hire or fire Hartzell — that is up to the UT Board of Regents.

“So, I think it would be considered advisory to the UT System [and] to the Board of Regents of the degree of concern on the part of faculty about his leadership,” she said.

Strong said the biggest disruption on campus this week was the university’s response to Wednesday’s protest, which she said left many staff and faculty afraid.

“Some have asked me to make it clear that this is a very frightening working environment currently,” she said.

UT declined to respond to a request for comment on the open letter expressing no confidence in President Hartzell.

Becky Fogel is the education reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @beckyfogel.
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