Doran sues under First
Amendment, demands reinstatement
By Ken Fountain
Daily Cougar Staff
Former UH adjunct geography professor Michael
Doran filed a lawsuit in federal court yesterday claiming the University
violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating
against him for publicly advocating the
return of a geography major at UH.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Southern
District of Texas, Houston Division, names Provost Edward Sheridan and
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Dean W.
Andrew Achenbaum as individual defendants.
Doran, who cleaned out his office last
week after (three months after receiving word that his contract would not
be renewe), claims UH retaliated against him "for engaging in
student-organizing activities and advocacy
activities on behalf of students' interest."
The suit states that Doran was a founding
advisor of the UH Geography Club, formed in October 2000 "for the purpose
of organizing and representing students with an
interest in geography."
"The goal of the club was to increase interest
in geography and raise enough support to have geography reactivated as
a major at the University so that students could
obtain a degree in geography from the
University," the suit reads.
Beginning in May 2000, Doran began a series
of meetings with Achenbaum to discuss the possibility of reactivating a
geography major at UH, which has not had such a
program since 1979. Achenbaum "asked Doran
for patience and time to review the idea," reads the suit.
During the summer of 2000, Doran organized
a University-sponsored research course that brought several students to
the South American island nation of Grenada. The
students conducted research that was later
published in Mariner's Mirror, a peer-reviewed academic journal.
On Feb. 9, a group of students presented
a petition, signed by between 500 and 600 students, seeking reinstatement
of the geography program to the UH System Board of
Regents. "Doran attended this meeting
in a show of support for the students," the suit reads.
During the meeting, Sheridan told the students
that, while they had made "a compelling presentation," the University's
enrollment figures did not justify the reactivation of a
geography program, especially since a
fledging program was being started at UH-Clear Lake.
In March, "Achenbaum learned that Doran
and the students were continuing their efforts to get the University to
reactivate the geography major and minor by organizing,
making a Web site, and contacting businessmen
and politicians," the suit reads.
The suit reads that, in response, Achenbaum
removed Doran's name from the list of courses he was already assigned to
teach this semester, while the courses remained
listed in course schedules. Achenbaum
also told Doran that he should refer to himself as a "lecturer."
Achenbaum dismissed Doran with no explanation
on March 23, according to the suit.
At the time, Achenbaum told The Daily Cougar
that the decision to not renew Doran's contract was "a purely administrative
decision. It wasn't personal. I wrestled with it. The
problem is I'm not rich (that is, the
decision was based on financial considerations at the college)."
The suit states further that Doran appeared
in television newscasts and was profiled in The Houston Chronicle in relation
to his dismissal.
"The University and (Achenbaum) opposed
Doran and his students' efforts to reactivate a geography major and minor.
Faculty was discouraged from speaking out against
the University's position on reactivation,"
The suit charges the University with violating
Doran's First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and assembly. It also
states that Doran has filed a charge of
discrimination with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission alleging the University discriminated against him
because of his age.
The suit asks for unspecified compensatory
and punitive damages, as well as attorney's and other legal costs. It also
demands Doran be reinstated to his job and teaching
Reached by phone last evening, Achenbaum
declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying he preferred to refer the matter
to the University's Office of the General Counsel.
The University maintains a policy of not
commenting on pending litigation.
Last week, The Daily Cougar reported that
the classes which Doran had been originally scheduled to teach this semester
were cancelled by CLASS after a replacement
instructor for Doran was not assigned,
leaving students who had signed up for them stranded. Achenbaum directed
all inquiries to the Office of External Communications.
CLASS Assistant Dean Kathleen Sheridan
(the wife of the provost) failed to provide an explanation for the apparent
With additional reporting by Tim Williams and Tom Carpenter