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New Report Shows “Egregious Violations” Of Academic Freedom At Collin College

The report determined the college violated professors’ free speech as citizens
Wylie Campus First Day, August 24, 2020
Photo: Nick Young | Collin College

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released a report detailing the Collin College administration’s summary termination of the services of three professors. 

The AAUP investigating committee found that the Collin administration’s actions involved “egregious violations” of Professors Lora Burnett, Suzanne Jones and Michael Phillips' academic freedom to speak as citizens and to criticize institutional policies. 

Professor Burnett became the subject of national controversy in Oct. 2020 for her tweets about the U.S. vice-presidential debate, including one that told Vice President Mike Pence to “shut his little demon mouth.” State Representative Jeff Leach texted Collin College President Matkin to point out that Burnett was “paid with taxpayer dollars.” The president replied, “I’m aware of the situation, Jeff, and will deal with it. Already on my radar before the current issue. She is definitely paid with taxpayer dollars.” The president then said, “Appreciate you. Good luck in November, friend.” 

In denying her reappointment for the following year, the administration cited her “insubordinate” challenging of the administration and governing board on social media and institutional email lists during that controversy. An official statement was also released stating that Burnett’s tweet was “hateful, vile, and ill-considered.” 

In the cases of Professors Jones and Phillips, the administration charged them with using social media to exert “external pressure” on the administration regarding what many faculty members considered to be inadequate COVID-19 policies instead of using “internal communications processes.” The administration accused Professor Jones of "misuse of the college's name" as they claimed that she did not prevent the Texas Faculty Association (TFA) from listing her as a faculty member of Collin College on their website and Facebook page, despite holding statewide and chapter officer positions within the organization.

Burnett also spoke out against the college’s COVID guidelines and tweeted from her personal account in which she wrote, “Another @collincollege professor has died of COVID.” Professor Burnett posted her tweet after seeing notice of Professor Hendrickson’s death on the Twitter account @FacesofCovid. She received a “Level 1” disciplinary warning from Associate Dean Babcock six days after the tweet. 

The committee concluded that Jones and Phillips were removed from their positions by the administration without being given a hearing by a faculty body that has the responsibility of determining whether sufficient grounds for dismissal have been presented. Additionally, the committee discovered that Burnett was not given a chance to appeal to an elected faculty committee regarding her claim that her academic freedom was violated by the decision not to renew her contract.

A year after Jones filed a lawsuit against the school, she shared a joint statement that covered the terms of the settlement. The agreement states that Jones will teach exclusively at the school’s virtual campus, iCollin, through February 2025. 

Collin College told Local Profile its educational mission is defined by the policies established by the Board of Trustees. But they acknowledged the American Association of AAUP's advocacy role and its current affiliation with the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.

"Since the onset of AAUP’s cursory investigation into matters of tenure and academic freedom, Collin College has cooperated with AAUP’s requests for additional resources and information, as we are firm in our conviction that all Board approved policies pertaining to academic freedom are consistently followed at the college, as are procedures for faculty contract renewals," a spokesperson from Collin College said.

"We are therefore disheartened to see AAUP’s continued refusal to acknowledge the inherent responsibility of an institution to uphold both a set of academic duties and academic rights, according to its own specified policies, and that tenure and academic freedom are not unqualified privileges that can be extorted by external groups for their own purposes."

The report concluded that the conditions for shared governance and academic freedom at Collin College are “grossly inadequate.” In response to the report, Collin College expressed that they are dedicated to the ongoing success of our students and staff.