UT Professor Rich Heyman Fired After Arrest at Pro-Palestine Protest

University groups see his firing as intimidation tactic

Rich Heyman (right) points at an officer and yells during a protest (Body Cam Footage from DPS / Screenshot via CBS Austin)

The firing of University of Texas professor Rich Heyman after Department of Public Safety troopers arrested him at a pro-Palestine protest two weeks ago has caused alarm among university groups.

“There’s no doubt in my mind this was an intimidation tactic from UT or DPS,” said Anne Lewis, who serves as region representative for the UT chapter of the Texas State Employees Union. “This is an escalation of right-wing attacks on higher education,” Lewis told us, connecting Heyman’s firing to the Texas Legislature’s ban on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives at public universities. (At a hearing in the Texas Senate, May 14, UT System Chancellor J.B. Milliken announced that 311 employees had been fired to comply with the ban.)

Heyman, who has taught urban studies courses as a UT lecturer for 18 years, was arrested for allegedly “interfering with the public duties” of a state trooper (a class B misdemeanor) at the April 29 protest on campus. The warrant issued for Heyman’s arrest alleges that Heyman yelled, “Fuck you, you don’t belong here” at troopers (a freedom protected by the U.S. Constitution, Heyman’s defense attorney Gerry Morris points out). The warrant claims Heyman attempted to “breach” a line of troopers surrounding protesters while he “maintained a verbally aggressive demeanor.”

The warrant says a trooper pushed Heyman back, and Heyman then lifted the water bottle he was holding above his head in what the trooper interpreted as a threatening gesture. The trooper alleges that Heyman then grabbed his bike, breaking the state-issued bike bell attached to it (they cost $62, per the warrant). Following that, UT police officers pulled Heyman away while the professor continued yelling at them.

“This is an escalation of right-wing attacks on higher education.”  – Texas State Employees Union’s Anne Lewis

Footage from a trooper’s body-worn camera released by DPS seems to show the trooper’s shove, Heyman’s grabbing the bike handle, and the water bottle rising (although it’s unclear if Heyman meant to threaten an attack with the water bottle, or if he was moving the bottle so he could point at the trooper with the hand closer to him). Morris, Heyman’s attorney, also says his office has received a trove of bystander footage that “makes it clear DPS initiated contact with Heyman” and that their reaction to him is startling. “He was literally just standing there when a trooper runs up and shoves him,” Morris said. The attorney, who says Heyman’s case should be dropped, declined to share the video with us, because it has been turned over to Travis County Attorney Delia Garza’s office for review (Garza had no comment).

Although the warrant described Heyman as threatening, none of the law enforcement on scene saw the need to arrest him that day. The warrant was issued May 6, a week after the protest. Two days later Heyman was arrested outside of his home. While sitting in county jail, UT officials sent him an email notifying him they would not renew his lecture contract. UT declined to comment on Heyman’s arrest or firing.

Despite his firing, the one course Heyman was set to teach remains on the academic calendar for the fall semester. It is currently waitlisted – an indicator that students are interested in taking his course, Lewis told us. “This is somebody who is clearly valuable to UT,” she said. “His contract has been renewed over-and-over and his class is full. Why would UT fire someone like that?”

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