Allen Harris Law’s Michael Thad Allen was in the news recently for representing Timothy Jackson. Timothy Jackson is a University of North Texas professor who was accused of “racist acts” and of fomenting a racist academic attack on a fellow music theorist. Timothy Jackson is a tenured music professor, the director of the UNT Center for Schenkerian Studies, and the co-founder of the scholarly publication the Journal of Schenkerian Studies.
UNT students and music faculty released a statement that circulated on social media alleging that Jackson and the journal were guilty of platforming racist sentiments referencing a symposium published in the journal in 2020. This symposium rebutted a plenary paper by Philip Ewell, a music theorist.
The plenary paper in question took aim at 20th-century music theorist Heinrich Schenker and proposed that he exemplified “Music Theory’s White Racial Frame” in his work.
The petition that was released on Twitter led to criticism and statements condemning Jackson from his colleagues in the College of Music and other colleges across the country.
Michael Thad Allen said students and music faculty deposed by the plaintiff have admitted they gave false information to the university during its investigation. Regarding the allegations posted online, some posters did not have firsthand knowledge of the allegation.
The investigation launched by the university resulted in Jackon’s being removed from the journal. The publication was also defunded.
Allen made a statement regarding the UNT music theory graduate student Rachel Gain specifically, “The graduate student, Rachel — these are public record — this defendant admitted on record that she had no firsthand knowledge of any of these claims,” Allen said. “That’s a pattern with these allegations. Many of Timothy’s critics don’t have firsthand knowledge of the claims they shared.”
By January, Jackson had taken legal action against the university stating that the university had violated his academic freedom and First Amendment rights. This lawsuit also named graduate students who Allen said defamed the professor.
“We conducted a number of depositions,” Allen said. “Some of the things that became prominent in the investigation of Timothy — I’m talking about things in the university’s investigation that accused Tim of extortion and ‘racist actions,’ and which really amount to Timothy saying things that made them uncomfortable and hurt their feelings — amount to defamation. If I accuse you… of burning a cross in someone’s yard and you did not do it, that is defamation in any state.”
Allen said the university is working to dismiss Jackson’s lawsuit by citing sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that claims the state can’t be sued in its own courts without the consent of the Texas Legislature.
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