Distinguished Professor Files Free Speech Retaliation Suit Against Texas Tech
LUBBOCK, Texas – A distinguished professor at Texas Tech University’s Rawls College of Business has filed a federal lawsuit based on claims that school officials violated his First Amendment right to freedom of speech by blocking him from two high-profile promotions in retaliation for his views in opposition to tenure.
James C. Wetherbe, Ph.D., says his opinions on tenure caused Texas Tech Provost Bob Smith to drop him from a short list of four finalists to become dean of the Rawls College. In addition, the lawsuit says the provost and former Texas Tech President Guy Bailey actively blocked Dr. Wetherbe’s nomination for a prestigious faculty honor known as a Horn Professorship.
Dr. Wetherbe, a Texas Tech distinguished alumnus, holds the Robert G. Stevenson Chaired Professor in Information Technology and is the founding director of the Institute of Internet Buyer Behavior at Texas Tech. He voluntarily resigned tenure at the University of Minnesota more than 20 years ago based on his principled belief that tenure’s job-for-life protections for professors are a detriment to higher education. Dr. Wetherbe declined subsequent tenure offers at the University of Memphis as the FedEx Chaired Professor of Excellence, and again when he joined the Texas Tech faculty in 2000.
“As a keynote speaker and consultant to business leaders, I found resigning tenure enhanced my professional credibility when offering strategic advice to corporations, where there is no guarantee of having a job or a customer tomorrow,” Dr. Wetherbe says. “I think society as a whole would benefit if higher education took a hard, critical look at the value and cost of tenure.”
Despite being recommended by a search committee as a finalist for the Rawls deanship earlier this year, the lawsuit says Dr. Wetherbe was unilaterally removed from consideration by Provost Smith. The professor’s lawsuit also says Provost Smith and former President Bailey ignored university policy and refused to forward Dr. Wetherbe’s Horn nomination to the Texas Tech Board of Regents. Neither the Dean’s position nor the Horn honor requires tenure. In fact, former Rawls College Dean Allen McInnes, himself without tenure, nominated Dr. Wetherbe for the Horn honor.
According to the lawsuit filed by attorney Holly Williams of the Williams Law Firm, P.C., in Midland, Texas, Provost Smith admitted under oath his belief that Dr. Wetherbe’s views on tenure made him unfit for either position. In addition to stating that he thinks the contract the professor signed with the school 12 years ago is invalid based on the rejection of tenure, Provost Smith has threatened to strip Dr. Wetherbe of the professor title he has held for 30 years, according to the lawsuit, which seeks a judgment to enforce the contract going forward.
Dr. Wetherbe has a long history of fundraising and personal donations to Texas Tech, including $1.2 million that represents the majority of his compensation from his Chair endowment. Dr. Wetherbe plans to donate any gain from any monetary award from the lawsuit back to the university for student scholarships.
In a career spanning four decades, Dr. Wetherbe (wetherbe.ba.ttu.edu) has been recognized by numerous publications and professional groups as one of the top 20 consultants and/or scholars in the Management Information Systems field. More than 20 years ago, Information Week rated him as one of the top 20 lecturers and consultants in MIS. Last year, a Georgia State University study included him among the top 20 most influential scholars in MIS. He is the co-recipient of the first MIS Quarterly Distinguished Scholar Award. He also is the author or co-author of 32 books, including multiple editions, and is widely published in top journals, with more than 6,500 citations to his credit.