A $70,000 settlement could have bought peace between the University of Texas System and former special adviser Rick O’Donnell, but O’Donnell, who was fired April 19, instead spoke out against UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, UT-Austin President William Powers Jr. and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
In an interview with the American-Statesman earlier this week, O’Donnell said Cigarroa and Powers stirred up opposition among donors, alumni and faculty members against efforts by O’Donnell, and some regents to dig up data on faculty productivity. Efforts to gather similar performance data at Texas A&M, rating the “worth” of professors according to revenue brought in and classroom hours taught, earned a rebuke from the prestigious American Association of Universities.
O’Donnell said that Cigarroa, Powers and Zaffirini, a Democrat from Laredo who leads the Higher Education Committee, mounted “a brutal campaign” to demonize the regents who have been active in pursuing faculty data, including Powell, Alex Cranberg, Wallace Hall and Brenda Pejovich. He said Powers begged him and Powell not to collect the data, according to the Statesman.
O’Donnell, a former executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, was dismissed after writing a letter accusing officials at the “highest levels” of the system of suppressing data that showed a great deal of tuition and taxpayer money go to professors do little teaching.
O’Donnell said the settlement will signal to future employees that he was not fired for performance issues. “Not even universities can fire people for free speech and civil rights and speaking out,” O’Donnell said.
Brian Bishop, O’Donnell’s lawyer, told the Houston Chronicle that the amount was small compared to what UT promised when he was hired.
“Rick simply got caught in a controversy manufactured by those who want to demonize anyone who dares suggest that students, parents and taxpayers come first by making the University more affordable with better teaching,” Bishop said.
In a statement, University of Texas System Board of Regents chairman Gene Powell called O’Donnell’s remarks “unfortunate,” denying that Cigarroa sought to undermine regents’ efforts, and saying the board “fully supports his vision.”