Announces $300,000 Gift to the Percy Foundation
Percy Foundation President Thomas K. Hubbard retired at age 65 from his post as James R. Dougherty, Jr. Centennial Professor of Classics at the University of Texas, Austin, so that he could devote his time and fund-raising skills exclusively to the Percy Foundation. Concomitant with his retirement, Hubbard announced his donation of $300,000 to the Foundation, as part of the proceeds he received in an unprecedented legal settlement with his former university.
Starting in November 2019, Hubbard was attacked by a loose coalition of extremist groups on campus, falsely alleging that his scholarship on ancient homosexuality “promotes pedophilia” and “advocates the violent rape of teen boys,” or that he was a pedophile himself and a “threat to student safety.” The initial organizer of the campaign is the daughter of Republican political operative Allen Blakemore, who was designated “the Darth Vader of Texas politics” by the District Attorney of Harris County (Houston). He is the chief political strategist for the legislative machine of the powerful and homophobic Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, a former talk-radio host from Houston. Her libelous claims about Prof. Hubbard’s scholarship were not only rapidly disseminated through local student social media and Texas news media, but also national media including The Daily Beast, Breitbart News, Law Enforcement Today, and Freedom Project Media (an arm of the John Birch Society). The Law Enforcement Today story, which had the title “Professor Argues It Should Be Legal for Grown Men to Have Sex with Children,” was widely circulated among right-wing social conservative networks on Facebook, until Prof. Hubbard reached a legal settlement with the publication to take it down and pay him damages.
At 3:30 AM in the morning of December 9, 2019, the last day of classes, Prof. Hubbard was awakened in his Austin home by the sound of crashing glass in the front room of his residence. When the police arrived some 20 minutes later, he found that a cinderblock fragment had been thrown through the window and the front of his house was spray-painted in red with hammer-and-sickle logos and large letters spelling CHILD RAPIST. Threatening graffiti was also left at other locations in his neighborhood. At 6:00 PM that evening, a mob of 15-20 masked protestors invaded his property, pounding on doors and windows, shining bright lights at the windows on every side, and chanting defamatory slogans through loudspeakers. The demonstrators also put leaflets in every mailbox in his neighborhood with his photos and claims that he was a dangerous child predator. The hour-long demonstration was videorecorded and broadcast live online, as well as being archived by the ANTIFA-linked revolutionary website Incendiary News. Credit for the attack was taken by another Marxist group known as the Popular Women’s Movement/Movimiento Femenino Popular. This group had been promoting a series of on-campus sit-ins and rallies that Fall to demand the removal of various male professors who were accused of sexual harassment, and uniquely in Prof. Hubbard’s case unpopular viewpoints.
Rather than quietly retiring in the face of such an assault by extremists of both the Right and Left, as some other faculty did, Prof. Hubbard fought back, demanding that his university correct the record and take action against the students responsible for the libelous campaign that made it impossible for him to teach safely on campus or even reside in Austin. Instead, the University did nothing but issue equivocal press releases distancing itself from supposed “world views that harm people.” The University President never criticized the violent attack, but instead expressed his “understanding” for the “concerns” of the protestors who perpetrated it, and announced an investigation of Prof. Hubbard. That investigation turned up nothing, but its result was never publicized.
Once it became clear to Prof. Hubbard that the University had no intention of punishing the students involved or in any other way supporting his academic freedom of inquiry, Prof. Hubbard spent considerable financial resources to retain the best legal talent available. After giving them an opportunity to withdraw their libelous statements, Prof. Hubbard sued the three students who were most responsible for the campaign, including Allen Blakemore’s daughter. He also filed an EEOC complaint against the University for its failure to address the stereotype-based harassment of a gay professor (which qualifies as sexual harassment under federal appellate jurisprudence). Prof. Hubbard and his counsel believed that the university president was retaliating for a letter Prof. Hubbard wrote to the Board of Regents debunking a deeply flawed and unscientific multi-million dollar study that purported to demonstrate an embarassingly high rate of sexual assault and harassment at the UT-Austin campus. This tendentious study, based on a biased convenience sample and poorly worded questions, did great damage to the University’s reputation and directly precipitated the violent wave of anti-male protests that came to a head in 2019-20.
Hubbard was widely denounced by other academics who knew little of his case, but thought no student should ever be held responsible for anything they say, no matter how ignorant, untrue, or damaging to innocent parties. A bill was even introduced by one of Allen Blakemore’s clients in the Texas Senate to require universities to fire any professor who ever sued a student for anything; another Blakemore client introduced a bill threatening faculty tenure. The University of Texas System’s Vice Chancellor was caught lying in testimony to the senate, falsely claiming that the university had alternative paths of resolution that could have prevented a libel suit. However, Hubbard had defenders. Prof. Brian Leiter, a noted First Amendment expert at the University of Chicago, wrote multiple blogs explaining that these student statements were in no way legitimate expressions of “opinion,” but statements of fact that qualified as per se defamation and were a threat to true academic freedom. The state’s faculty unions were immediately on top of the proposed legislation and defended the right of faculty to sue malicious students, informing other senators on the Higher Education Committee of the pernicious political origins of the proposed bills. In the end, the people’s representatives emphatically rejected the bills; some of them expressed concern that universities’ failure to regulate irresponsible social media left them and their employees vulnerable.
Hubbard’s complex litigation strategy allowed him to use the discovery powers yielded by his three libel suits to expose the direct complicity of both former university president Gregory Fenves and the university’s general counsel in leading Allen Blakemore’s daughter to believe that they supported her. She had lunch with the general counsel on the same day that she disrupted Hubbard’s large class, was invited to the President’s skybox at a football game, was seated at the President’s table during a political event, and told by him “not to worry” about the possibility of a libel suit. In addition, Hubbard was able to subpoena evidence showing misconduct and mendacity at multiple administrative levels of the university. Evidence proved a direct connection between Blakemore fille and the violent Marxist group that attacked Hubbard’s house, and that university officials were aware of their connection.
In June 2021, the University of Texas offered Hubbard an unprecedented settlement of $700,000 if he would retire at 65 and discontinue further discovery in his libel suits that might turn up more evidence of the university’s culpability. The university used public funds to bail out a privileged and politically well-connected student from a wealthy family who, with a small group of other extremists, attempted to ruin the career of a major scholar whose work she had scarcely read, much less understood. It should be noted that the amount of $700,000 is far in excess of what would normally be offered in settlement of a mere labor dispute with a professor who was already 65. The amount is in fact nearly equal to the statutory maximum allowed by Texas law for libel WITH PUNITIVE DAMAGES.
This case should be regarded as a major victory for academic freedom against defamatory disinformation. Prof. Hubbard persevered in pressing ahead, despite ostracism within his own department and field, because of his conviction that honest historical and social scholarship on controversial issues must not be intimidated through ignorant anti-intellectual mischaracterization by political actors or press. He hopes that this victory, as well as his successful actions against multiple media sources, will deter such ad hominem political attacks on academics in the future.
However, Prof. Hubbard also believes that his case should be a warning to both scholars and donors that even the most prestigious public universities have become so riddled with political corruption and ideological uniformity that they are unreliable defenders of the free pursuit of truth. By donating nearly half his award to the Percy Foundation, as well as pledging the bulk of his large estate, Prof. Hubbard wishes to send the message to other educated citizens that honest scholarship in public policy and the liberal arts is better supported through private foundations like ours than through America’s hopelessly deteriorated and feckless university system.