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Fourth Professor Claims Collin College Dismissed him For Free Speech

Education

Photo of Collin College campus | Image by collin.edu

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Michael Phillips recently became the fourth professor in the past several months whose contract Collin College elected not to renew, according to KERA News. Phillips claims his dismissal was the result of him expressing his stance on the school’s COVID-19 policies.

Phillips spoke to Axios Dallas and said the issue arose when he was giving his class a lecture on the 1918 influenza pandemic.

He told his students to, “think about the consequences of what [they’re] doing and the risks [they] might pose to [their] community.”

After students complained, Phillips was issued a disciplinary warning, and four days later was told his contract would not be up for renewal. According to Axios, he has sought legal representation.

In August 2021, the administration at Collin College instructed faculty and staff members not to make any requests or recommendations regarding students wearing masks.

Phillips told KERA News, “We were told we could not use any language at all, urging, recommending, expressing hopes that students would wear masks. It was expanded, saying we shouldn’t mention social distancing. I took a photo of that PowerPoint and commented on it because I felt it was something the public ought to know.”

Two days before Phillips was dismissed, another former professor, Lora Burnett, settled her own lawsuit against Collin College regarding freedom of speech. Burnett received $70,000 to settle out of court. There is also a current lawsuit against the college from a third former professor, Suzanne Jones.

“My hope would be that the college reassess this record they have now of trampling on the faculty,” Phillips told KERA News. “This gets expensive for the taxpayers, and I would hope they would think about public health, would think about the constitution that they swear to uphold, because they’re not doing it. All of these are free speech cases. And in each case, the colleges decided to ignore the First Amendment and their own policies.”

The American Freedom Alliance issued a letter to Collin College on February 3 in response to Phillips being dismissed. In the letter, they call for the college to reverse their decision, and let Phillips keep his job.

“For Professor Phillips to face the possible termination of his employment in part on the basis of and in retaliation for his constitutionally protected speech would violate his First Amendment rights,” the letter stated.

The letter added that Phillips is “working with an attorney provided by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which has also closely monitored other instances of academic freedom suppression at Collin College.”

Phillips told Axios he believes that he, and the other three professors, believe they were dismissed over what they expressed regarding the school’s Covid-19 guidelines.

KERA News reached out to Collin College for a comment, but they did not want to make a statement regarding personnel matters.

The college maintained that Phillips’ dismissal was unrelated to his comments, saying, “Given that the renewal or non-renewal of faculty contracts is a routine operational matter at the college, we are dismayed at the efforts of some individuals to present this as anything other than what it truly is.”

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