Collin College under fire from AAUP for academic freedom violation

Three professors were fired after speaking out against Confederate statues, COVID-era policies and more. The AAUP investigated.

Collin College is under investigation by the American Association of University Professors after three professors in recent years have sued the college for infringing on their First Amendment rights.

In 2020, Lora Burnett was fired for criticizing conservative policies on social media, with tweets suggesting Former Vice President Mike Pence “shut his little demon mouth up.”

When the college didn’t renew her contract, Burnett partnered with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) to sue the school. During the investigation, texts from the college president and state Representative Jeff Leach revealed plans to fire Burnett over the social media statements.

Burnett settled in January of 2022 and took Collin College’s offer to pay her $70,000 plus attorney’s fees, citing time and use of taxpayer money as reasons not to prolong the litigation.

In 2021, fellow professor Suzanne Jones sued the college for firing her due to her public critiques of Collin College’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jones worked at Collin College for two decades before she was fired for signing her name and college affiliation to a petition calling for the city of Dallas to remove Confederate monuments, opposing the college’s reopening plan during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and listing herself as a Collin College professor on the Texas Faculty Association website.

Lawyers for Collin College asked the judge to dismiss the case, claiming they had qualified immunity. Qualified immunity protects government officials from lawsuits unless they clearly violated an individual or group’s constitutional rights. The judge denied that request, leaving the officials to potentially be held personally and financially responsible if found to have violated Jones’ rights.

Jones settled with Collin College, receiving a $230,000 two-year contract starting in January 2023, a significant raise from her prior $66,000 salary. Jones is restricted to only teaching online courses and must resign after the contract finishes, per the settlement. The settlement also requires that the college pay $145,000 in legal fees for Jones.

Similarly, Michael Phillips, a history professor, publicly advocated for the removal of Confederate monuments in Dallas, participated in a media interview about the El Paso shooting and commented on social media about the college’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This case has not been settled.

The AAUP’s investigation into these events found the school to be in violation of the professors’ academic freedom. During the investigation, the administration was asked to participate and respond to the allegations against the school.

“With the tenure system, the ultraliberal, anticapitalism, socialistic professors want to hire more just like them. So, we don’t have that here. We have a contract system,” board member Robert Collins said of Collin College’s lack of tenure system.

Though the association is not a governing body over the college, the group could censure Collin College, informing the public of their findings and warning educators about working there.

“The climate for academic freedom at Collin College is grossly inadequate, as might be expected at an institution at which a chair of the board of trustees publicly boasts that the absence of a tenure system facilitates the removal of political undesirables,” the investigation stated.

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