Federal Judge Dismisses Texas A&M International Discrimination Suit

A federal judge in Houston has tossed out a civil rights suit that claimed Texas A&M International University was getting rid of Asian faculty members to replace them with Hispanics. A federal judge in Houston has tossed out a civil rights suit that claimed Texas A&M International University was getting rid of Asian faculty members to replace them with Hispanics.

A federal judge in Houston has tossed out a civil rights lawsuit by an untenured faculty member who claimed his university was getting rid of Asian faculty members to replace them with Hispanics.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt ruled in early December that Dr. Fuming Wu offered insufficient evidence to support his allegation that Texas A&M University International University’s branch in Laredo (TAMIU) had “an employment strategy that aims to change the faculty portfolio to match that of the student population.”

Hoyt also found that the university had sufficient non-discriminatory justifications not to renew Wu’s contract based on lack of collegiality, poor teaching performance and insubordination.

Wu, who represents himself, filed a notice of appeal in mid-December.

In January 2006, Wu joined the faculty as a tenure-stream but non-tenured assistant professor of computer science in the College of Arts and Sciences. He received “exemplary” or “highly proficient” performance reviews in 2006 and 2007.

However, conflicts arose between Wu and the chairman of his department, Dr. Rafic Bachnak. As a result, the chairman and the college dean, Thomas Mitchell, determined not to reappoint Wu, effective May 31, 2010. The provost, Dr. Pablo Arenaz, approved their decision.

After being notified of the non-renewal, Wu requested an evaluation for 2008. It was unsatisfactory, and he appealed to the University Grievance Committee, which found that he had been unfairly evaluated, but TAMIU’s president reversed the committee’s finding.

After the EEOC dismissed Wu’s Title VII race and national origin bias and retaliation complaint, he sued the university and several administrators for compensatory and punitive damages and reinstatement.

In part, the suit asserted that Arenaz, the provost, made racially discriminatory comments at meetings by stating that TAMIU had too many Indian and Chinese professors and that he wouldn’t hire faculty whose names he couldn’t pronounce.

The suit claimed that Asians and Pacific Islanders accounted for 5.33 percent of the faculty but only 0.46 percent of the students in fall 2008. By spring 2010, they had dropped to 3.9 percent of the faculty.

Hoyt dismissed the case without trial.

He said it was only Wu’s speculation that Arenaz sought to reduce the number of Asian and Pacific Islander faculty and to increase the number of Hispanic professors.

Nor was Wu present when Arenaz allegedly made those comments, which Arenaz denied.

On other issues, the judge said there was no direct evidence of discrimination, that Wu was treated differently from other faculty members or that anyone at TAMIU made discriminatory remarks directly to him based on national origin or race.

Hoyt also highlighted events that TAMIU relied on to justify non-renewal, including: 

  • In fall 2007, students complained to the department chairman about Wu’s teaching style. When the chairman raised the issue, Wu became “defensive and unprofessional and raised his voice.”
  • Wu bypassed normal procedures when seeking to sponsor a visiting scholar from China and failed to keep the chairman informed about the status of the sponsorship proposal.
  • When his students performed poorly on a departmental algebra midterm, Wu made unsubstantiated accusations of impropriety by another instructor.
  • Wu insisted on taking a grant-related course release during a semester when the department had a shortage of instructors due to increased enrollment. In contrast, the other two faculty members who shared the grant agreed to the chairman’s request to defer their course release until the summer semester. 

“Regardless of any teaching awards or nominations earlier in his career, the evidence does not dispel the view that his performance decreased markedly in 2008,” Hoyt wrote.

Also, the negative evaluation after the non-renewal decision reinforces the “legitimate, non-discriminatory business reasons for his non-reappointment,” Hoyt said.