Photo Credit: Ashley Ephraim
Abusive Men In Power: UT’s Double Standard For Justice
On Jan. 24 the Austin American Statesman released an article detailing the crimes of UT Pharmacy Professor Richard Morrisett and calling into question his status at the University. Morrisett had pleaded guilty to three third-degree felony charges. The incidents involved Morrisett strangling his then-girlfriend to the point of her “seeing stars,” a second violent incident which resulted in his then-girlfriend having to be sent to the hospital, and then the repeated violation of a court order to stay away from her.
Despite the abhorrent nature of these charges, when the university learned of these charges officials placed him on 18 days of paid administrative leave in August 2016 (as the arrest occurred in May of that same year) while they interviewed faculty members and students. University spokesman J.B. Bird later said in an email that, “The review found no relation between how the professor acted in this situation and how he acted on campus, and as a result, he was allowed to continue his teaching and lab activities” on campus at the College of Pharmacy. The Statesman article going further and stating that through records obtained under the Texas Public Information Act, Morrisett was not sanctioned at all for his actions. This, despite administrators concluding that Morrisett violated a policy requiring employees to notify a supervisor of criminal charges, the administration was notified of the case by campus police.
The University’s stance on such actions is detailed in their Handbook of Operating Procedures, a set of policies concerning behaviors such as domestic violence, physical assault, and dating violence, listed as “prohibited conduct” that the University “will not tolerate.” Yet, the University has allowed Morrisett to stay as an active tenured professor and decided not (I would say failed, but that would imply they tried in the first place) to notify the community of the violent offender residing on campus. This has caused outrage on campus from students. The day following the Statesman article University President Gregory Fenves released a statement saying the University will work on clarifying how off-campus conduct impacts an employee’s on-campus duties. He went further in an online statement saying, “Violent action by any member of the university community is unacceptable…This episode shows we need to explicitly define conduct that is subject to discipline, including possible termination, regardless of whether it occurs on or off campus.”
Later, student government fast-tracked a bill, reported on the Jan. 31, for the university to hold professors to the same ethical code as students, a bill which due to disagreements from the council on whether or not Morrisett should resign and concern over the lack of Pharmacy student voices being included in the decision. Pulling a quote from the Daily Texan article over this, University-wide representative Chloe Harfield, “Asking anyone that commits an act of interpersonal violence (to) step down is a hard thing to stomach, but that’s kind of what we’re all rallying behind.”
Morrisett is a domestic abuser that the University actively decided to protect in their withholding of the charges to students.
On Feb. 5 the College of Pharmacy was tagged with a series of red spray-painted messages such as, “UT harbors abusers” and “Watch your back, Richard.” Then, on Feb. 13, a protest was hosted by a group known as Revolutionary Student Front , which according to their publicity was a “Rally to Run Off Morrisett.” Protesters voiced their frustrations on the Universities inaction to this case, the protest started at 12:30 p.m. and in just 15 minutes an unknown protester was arrested. According to the crowd, the protester was singled out and received charges of “criminal trespassing.” The group later marched from the pharmacy building to the tower facing the south mall. RSF then laid out their goals for the Morrisett campaign, “We are here because we want Morrisett out immediately. We don’t ask that the University fires him because we know that they are the ones who have been harboring this abuser and we know we cannot rely on them for our safety.” They continued with strong criticisms of the University, “Greg Fenves and the UT administration were motivated to keep Morrisett on staff because their decorated doctor and his lab’s research bring in too much grant money to risk dismissing him. This is the nature of universities – they are not institutions that are run for the public good; they are run purely for profit.” They detailed in their speech how such actions by Morrisett, and abusers as a whole, cannot properly be removed from a society as there are systems like class and capitalism. These base ideas stem from something called the social reproduction theory. (I won’t go into it, it’s great to read and look into further though). The rally then capped off with some more chants and ended a little before 1:30 p.m.
This was latest student action in regards to Morrisett.
With all of these actions, we see the University’s negligence to properly respond to the concerns of their students. The University had been silent on this issue until the Austin Statesman article caused outrage among students. The University has a carded past in dealing with cases of abuse and, in particular, sexual assault. The University says they have ethical standards, but this situation brings to light how far they’re willing to go with them. It begs the question, what would have happened had the Statesman article never came out? Would the situation just go unnoticed? Fade away as the victim of Morrisett’s assault has to live with the scars?
Abuse, in all forms, leaves their victims scarred. For those saying, “What about him? Why ruin his life over something in the past? What if this ruins his chances to contribute greatly to his field?” Then I must ask you, what about the victims, their lives, their goals and dreams? They deserve much more humanity than their abusers. For the survivors of abuse, often their abuser remains an ever-present ghost in their life. We should expect far more than this University has given us, as students, as people, we should not be silent as another abuser is allowed to live without the consequences of their actions.
Photo Credit: Ashley Ephraim