AUSTIN, TX — Protesters decrying the hiring of a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who pleaded guilty to domestic abuse have aired their displeasure with graffiti and flyers calling for his removal.
"Get the hell off our campus now," flyers that appeared throughout campus read. The signs emerged a few days after graffiti on campus buildings was discovered with similar messaging in protest of the university’s decision to keep professor Richard Morrisett on sstaff despite the charges: "Careful! UT Keeps Abusers on Staff!" the graffiti scrawled in red paint reads. "Watch your back Richard."
The controversy over the professor maintaining his job was sparked after a report by the Austin American-Statesman detailing the charges. Morrisett, a pharmacy professor, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of choking his girlfriend in 2016. He was also accused of a second incident that led to his girlfriend’s hospitalization and violating a court order to stay away from her, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Although he failed to report the choking charge to university officials as required by school policy, the professor was barely disciplined and allowed to remain in his position. Morrisett, 57, had faced three third-degree felony charges, each of which carried a prison term of up to 10 years but struck a deal with prosecutors calling for community service in avoidance of jail time.
Photos of the graffiti defacement were posted on a student-run Facebook group called the Revolutionary Student Front. A university spokeswoman told the Statesman it’s unclear if those posting the flyers would face charges, but noted the graffiti defacement is a state jail felony and those responsible would face such charges.
For his part, Morrisett, 57, wasn’t harshly disciplined for not having at least reported his guilty plea as outlined in university policy. Upon learning of the past charges, university officials placed Morrisett on paid administrative leave for 18 days in August 2016 while a review was conducted.
In an email to the Statesman related to the professor’s continued tenure at the school, university spokesman J.B. Bird justified the professor’s campus following that investigation: "The review found no relation between how the professor acted in this situation and how he acted on campus, and as a result he was allowed to continue his teaching and lab activities," Bird wrote.
Critics note the seeming contradictory nature of that justification, pointing to the university’s expressed zero-tolerance stance on domestic abuse as it relates to its students. One student recently sued the university over that strictly enforced policy, saying he was unjustly suspended for five weeks over what he claims was consensual sex with another student.
Photo of Richard A. Morrisett via University of Texas at Austin