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Professor Sues Over Layoff in UT-Brownsville, Texas Southmost Split

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UTB-TSC TowerSM
Beth Cortez-Neavel
A water tower in Brownsville sports the UTB TSC logo.

Susan Mills, an English professor at the University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College, filed a federal lawsuit last week against the university officials who fired her.

Mills claims that UTB President Juliet Garcia, Provost Alan Artibise and a former dean of the school’s College of Liberal Arts wrongfully terminated her employment as part of the university’s massive downsizing.

The two South Texas schools, UTB and TSC, are in the midst of a five-year divorce ending a partnership that began more than 20 years ago. Both schools are preparing to enroll students separately next semester, and UTB has been scaling back to prepare for fewer students. Mills is one of nearly 90 faculty members notified last spring that they would lose their jobs in May 2013.

Mills claims her tenure gives her property rights to her employment, and that the termination of her job is an unconstitutional violation of her due process rights. The Brownsville Herald first reported the suit last week. It’s apparently the first lawsuit to come out of the schools’ messy split that’s cost the jobs of almost 300 faculty and staff members.

UTB formed departmental review committees to recommend which faculty members should be laid off, based on their credentials and years of employment with the school. The lawsuit says the recommendation to lay off Mills was based upon “false assumptions” and “factual misstatements” made by Charles Dameron, a member of the English department’s review committee.

Mills appealed her termination notice to another committee, which determined in November of 2012 that Artibise’s decision to fire Mills was “arbitrary and unreasonable.” The complaint says President Garcia rejected the hearing committee’s findings, and sent Mills a final termination notice instead.

The complaint says the university’s need to make layoffs “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 firing Mills and other faculty. “This case illustrates the tension between faculty and top members of the UT-B administration with respect to tenure rights,” the suit says.

“Downsizing is a myth,” the complaint goes on. “If the downsizing of UT-B were a reality, UT-B would not be hiring faculty at the same time it is releasing nearly ninety faithful educators. In other words, the ‘downsizing’ excuse for honoring its tenure commitments to its professors is a ruse. The real reason is financial exigency rather than downsizing.”

Mills requested a temporary restraining order to prevent UTB from dismissing her at the end of the semester, according to the Herald, but Federal District Judge Andrew Hanen  denied Mills’ request. A pretrial hearing is set for July 23.