UTB professor files lawsuit - Brownsville Herald: Local News

UTB professor files lawsuit

By Melissa Montoya The Brownsville Herald | Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2013 2:15 pm

A tenured professor at the University of Texas at Brownsville has filed a civil lawsuit in federal court alleging her position was wrongfully terminated during the university’s faculty reductions.

Susan Mills, a professor in the Department of English, and 87 other faculty members were given notice almost exactly a year ago that their positions would be cut. The university has claimed in the past that its separation with Texas Southmost College has created a need to eliminate positions.

The lawsuit alleges “the actual need, however, for a reduction in force is undercut by the reality that UT-B subsequently began hiring instructors for the English and other departments at the very same time that it was acting to terminate Susan Mills and other tenured professors similarly situated.”

Mills is seeking to be reinstated to her former position as a tenured faculty member.

U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen on Tuesday denied Mills’ request for a temporary restraining order that would have prevented the university from ending her employment May 31, as planned.

Mills has named UTB President Juliet V. Garcia, Provost Alan Artibise and the university as defendants in the lawsuit. A third person, then Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Daniel Heimmermann, was also named in the lawsuit.

Garcia and Artibise did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday.

“We’re not permitted to discuss it because it’s in litigation,” UTB spokeswoman Letty Fernandez said.

A spokeswoman for the University of Texas System also declined to comment.

“We are not able to comment on pending litigation,” UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste Caputo said.

Mills was granted tenure in August 2010 but has been with the university in different capacities since 1992, according to the lawsuit. “This case illustrates the tension between faculty and top members of the UT-B administration with respect to tenure rights,” the lawsuit states.

In the Department of English, a Department Review Committee was supposed to recommend four of 21 faculty members to fire. Mills’ lawsuit said the committee was appointed by Garcia and that one of the five committee members submitted a minority recommendation that contained incorrect information that elevated a professor to a higher level of classification than Mills.

Information in that minority recommendation was later found to be false, according to the lawsuit. The inclusion of the false information, Mills alleges in the lawsuit, led to her termination. Artibise is named in the suit because he did not attempt to verify the information, the lawsuit contends.

According to the lawsuit, Mills appealed her termination but Garcia determined that Mills should not be reinstated as a tenured professor despite the incorrect information in the minority recommendation.

In the lawsuit, Mills cites the First Amendment’s free speech clause and the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause as “protections for the academic community.”

Mills declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.