Timothy Jackson: Standing Up for Freedom of Academic Expression

FAIR is proud to support a lawsuit by Professor Timothy Jackson against the University of North Texas over the infringement of his free speech rights and academic freedom.

In July 2020, Professor Jackson published a scholarly article challenging the claim that classical music is systemically racist and infected with white supremacy. The venue was the Journal of Schenkerian Studies, which Professor Jackson co-founded and led. Professor Jackson’s perspective on classical music reflects Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of the unified “human family,” rather than divisive tribal affiliations based on race or skin color.

Portrait of Timothy Jackson, 62, music theory professor at the University of North Texas in his home located in Flower Mound, Texas. (N Johnson/NY Times)

Professor Jackson’s position was met with backlash and punishment. A social-media mob pounced on him as “racist” and graduate students ginned up a petition to cancel both Professor Jackson and the Journal. Almost all of Professor Jackson’s colleagues signed on to the petition, some apparently without even reading it. The University’s Provost convened a special “ad hoc panel” to “investigate” Professor Jackson. The University condemned him for “editorial misconduct” and the department chair removed him from the Journal. But what were his crimes? Nothing more or less than exactly what editors at other journals routinely do: they choose which articles will be published. In the interest of presenting both sides, the Journal published a spectrum of views regarding racism in classical music, including those opposed to Professor Jackson. The difference here was that Professor Jackson’s article defended classical music from accusations of “white supremacy”—apparently an incorrect viewpoint on the campus of the University of North Texas.

Professor Jackson sued to defend his academic freedom and constitutional right to free speech. In a preliminary ruling favoring Professor Jackson, the court rejected the University’s arguments that he should not be allowed to sue, that the University had done nothing wrong, and that the University could do whatever it liked with the Journal, including putting it “on ice,” as the Texas Attorney General argued. The judge’s decision rejected those arguments; it is available for viewing here.

The University of North Texas appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in an effort to justify the cancellation of Timothy Jackson and the Journal he co-founded. In September 2023, the 5th Circuit found in favor of Professor Jackson by upholding the lower court’s decision which had denied the Board’s motion to dismiss.  This means that Professor Jackson can now take this case to trial.

This case will set standards for academic freedom and freedom of speech in the realm of the arts and humanities, not only in the state of Texas but throughout the Fifth Circuit, and perhaps the whole U.S.

Among FAIR’s core values are freedom of speech and academic expression. A liberal education requires exposure to multiple viewpoints sometimes at odds with each other. Without them, students are robbed of their own First Amendment right to hear varied perspectives. That is why FAIR supports Professor Jackson’s case; we invite you to join us by making a monetary gift or contribution today. With your support, FAIR will be able to continue advocating for Professor Jackson and others like him who are courageous in their convictions.

Professor Jackson is represented by FAIR Network Attorney Michael Allen and Jonathan Mitchell.