Texas medical student expelled for newspaper column sues university

A medical school student who wrote a weekly column for The University Daily has filed a lawsuit in state court challenging his expulsion from Texas Tech University.

In the lawsuit, Sandeep Rao alleges that a Jan. 24 column, “Autopsy proves to be eye-opening,” prompted the university to expel him from the medical school on April 25. Rao wrote about an autopsy he conducted on an unnamed man with his professor, Dr. Jerry Spencer, who is also the county medical examiner. Soon after the column was published, Spencer complained that Rao violated the terms of a confidentiality agreement he signed by disclosing details of the case and the diagnosis.

Under Texas law, however, records of autopsies performed by medical examiners are open to the public.

Rao’s work at The University Daily clearly played a role in his expulsion, his lawsuit claims. According to the suit, members of a hearing committee looking into Spencer’s complaint questioned Rao about other columns he wrote, including a piece critical of a local mayor and another supporting the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

“This committee was investigating the broader issue of Rao’s work as a journalist, not any real misconduct on his part,” the lawsuit states. “[The university] sought to retaliate against Rao because they disagreed with his point of view, not as a result of any shortcomings as a student or potential physician.”

The university has denied Rao’s column provoked the expulsion.

“He is no longer in the medical school for reasons unrelated to the column or his work on The University Daily,” said Cindy Rugeley, vice chancellor of news and information. “Frankly, if we kicked out everyone who made us unhappy for a column, there wouldn’t be any students left at Texas Tech.”

Rugeley declined to discuss specifics of the case, citing the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, also known as the Buckley Amendment.

Rao’s suit seeks a temporary injunction asking that he be allowed to continue his studies while the case goes forward. His attorney, Andrew Golub, said Rao has already missed his spring semester exams and is in jeopardy of missing the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination, which would delay his studies.