SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: March 07, 2023

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Texas A&M University

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 7, 2023, Joy Alonzo, a clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M University and expert on the opioid crisis, was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into comments she reportedly made about Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick during a lecture on the opioid crisis.

Hours after she had given a visiting lecture at University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) about opioid overdose policies Alonzo learned that a student – reportedly the daughter of Texas Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham, a political ally of Patrick’s – had complained about comments she made during the lecture about Lt. Governor Patrick. A few hours later, Patrick’s chief of staff reportedly communicated about the incident with John Sharp, Texas A&M’s chancellor. In response, Sharp informed Patrick, via text message, that “Joy Alonzo has been placed on administrative leave pending investigation re firing her. shud [sic] be finished by end of week.”

Following the actions by Sharp and Patrick’s staff, the university issued a letter formally censuring Alonzo, condemning the statements she made in her lecture. Notably, the lecture was not recorded, the censure did not identify the specific comments that were alleged to be problematic, and it is not clear which part of Alonzo’s lecture was the basis for the Lt. Governor’s and university’s actions.

Ultimately, an internal investigation did not find evidence of wrongdoing, and the university allowed Alonzo to retain her position.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the suspension of a scholar and other punitive measures taken in retaliation for the exercising of the right to academic freedom during a lecture. State officials and higher education authorities have an obligation not to interfere with expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, suspensions stemming from such activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.

Sources:
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/jul/25/texas-am-university-professor-suspended-dan-patrick
https://www.texastribune.org/2023/07/25/texas-a-m-professor-opioids-dan-patrick
https://abc13.com/texas-am-suspends-professor-joy-alonzo-suspended-with-pay-criticizing-dan-patrick-what-happened/13546665/
https://www.npr.org/2023/07/26/1190245518/texas-professor-joy-alonzo-investigation-freedom-speech
https://academicfreedom.org/afa-sends-letter-to-texas-am-regarding-censure-of-professor/

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El 7 de marzo de 2023, Joy Alonzo, profesora clínica adjunta de la Universidad A&M de Texas y experta en la crisis de los opioides, fue puesta en situación de baja administrativa a la espera de una investigación sobre los comentarios que supuestamente hizo sobre el vicegobernador de Texas, Dan Patrick, durante una conferencia sobre la crisis de los opioides.

Horas después de impartir una conferencia en la Facultad de Medicina de la Universidad de Texas (UTMB) sobre las políticas en materia de sobredosis de opioides, Alonzo se enteró de que una estudiante, al parecer hija de Dawn Buckingham, comisaria de Tierras de Texas y aliada política de Patricks, se había quejado de los comentarios que ésta había hecho durante la conferencia sobre el vicegobernador Patrick. Unas horas más tarde, el jefe de personal de Patricks comunicó el incidente a John Sharp, canciller de la Universidad de Texas A&M. Sharp informó a Patrick de lo sucedido. En respuesta, Sharp informó a Patrick, a través de un mensaje de texto, de que Joy Alonzo había sido puesta en situación de baja administrativa a la espera de la investigación sobre su despido, que debería estar terminada a finales de semana.

Tras la actuación de Sharp y del personal de Patrick, la universidad emitió una carta en la que censuraba formalmente a Alonzo y condenaba las declaraciones que había hecho en su conferencia. Cabe destacar que la conferencia no se grabó, que la censura no identificaba los comentarios específicos que supuestamente eran problemáticos y que no está claro qué parte de la conferencia de Alonzo fue la base de las acciones del Vicegobernador y de la universidad.

Finalmente, una investigación interna no encontró pruebas de irregularidades y la universidad permitió que Alonzo conservara su puesto.

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Scholars at Risk (SAR) is a member of the Coalition for Academic Freedom in the Americas (CAFA), and partners with CAFA on Americas-focused monitoring activities. Relevant incidents, with factual details translated into Spanish, appear on both SAR and CAFA websites.

Scholars at Risk (SAR) es una institución que integra la Coalición por la Libertad Académica en las Américas (CLAA). SAR trabaja junto con la CLAA en el monitoreo de situaciones en las Américas. Los incidentes relevantes que reportamos, con descripción de hechos detallados en español, aparecen tanto en los portales de SAR como de la CLAA.