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.