Former tenured economics professor Ronald Ayers is suing the university to regain his position, claiming that university officials violated his “constitutional right to free speech.”

Ayers, who taught at UTSA for close to three decades, had never received a complaint against him. But in 2006 investigations began when a graduate student reported overhearing “sexual noises” coming from Ayers’ office.

A year later, in 2007, after extensive investigations and committee meetings, Ayers was fired.

Ayers was found to have been viewing pornography and was accused of accessing child pornography, but no evidence relating to child pornography was found on his computer.

Initially, Ayers denied viewing pornography, but after being shown computer records proving his viewing of the sites, he said the incidents may have “happened after a long work day.” Eventually, he claimed the viewing was for “academic research.”

At the time of Ayers’ termination, viewing “sexually explicit” web pages was not technically against university policy. The reasoning behind the firing was based on Ayers “allegedly excessively using his school computer for private purposes,” Ayers’ attorney, Glen Levy, said.

After the investigation began, it was not long before Ayers claimed to have felt “threatened” about the security of his job, saying that he was told he would be fired if he did not seek medical help and, if he was found with child pornography, he would be “taken away in handcuffs.”

Ayers sought the medical help, but he was still terminated.

UTSA attorneys and university spokesperson David Gabler declined to discuss the case due to the ongoing lawsuit.

Ayers appealed to a faculty tribunal, which found he had poor judgment but should not have been fired. Nevertheless, Ayers was terminated on grounds of accessing “sexually explicit” materials, and the university appealed the tribunal’s decision to the UT Board of Regents, who ruled in favor of the university.

Levy noted, “People don’t seem to understand that his peers, every single tenured professor, recommended that he not be fired.”

The San Antonio Express News reported that Ayers claimed the university released a series of e-mails to Ayers and a professor at Palo Alto College.

The e-mail discussions between the two professors included talk about young women in Ayers’ classes describing one student as having “huge chest puppies” and being “the beautiful, dumb, full-figured nude model.”

These e-mails were presented to the tribunal, but they were viewed as irrelevant. Ayers claimed that the e-mails were taken out of context and that they were meant for academic purposes of “evolutionary psychology and feminist thought.”

UTSA has fired one other tenured professor, Philip Stotter. Stotter was fired on grounds that he would keep his lab dangerously unsafe and extremely cluttered. Stotter also sued the university in 2009 for compensation for the loss of 35 years’ worth of research notes he claimed the notes were lost due to the university’s ordering for his laboratory to be cleaned in 2001.

District judge Orlando Garcia, determined that the research belonged to the university, and the Court of Appeals agreed saying Stotter failed to provide he had a “protectable interest” in the lost notes.

When the Ayers case will be tried is unknown. “We would like to get a trial as soon as possible, but there are just some delays that are caused from the prosecution of the case,” Levy said.  

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