SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: January 28, 2021

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Collin College

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On January 28, 2021, Collin College declined to renew the contract of humanities professor Audra Heaslip in apparent retaliation for expression critical of the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In summer 2020, Heaslip circulated a statement, signed by 130 faculty members, expressing concerns about returning to in-person classes amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the widespread support of Heaslip’s statement, the Faculty Council passed a resolution urging the college to keep most courses online. On November 11, 2020, Heaslip was featured in a local news report about the college’s handling of the pandemic, in which she expressed concerns over the college not setting up an online dashboard to track COVID-19 cases on campus.

On January 28, 2021, the college’s provost, Mary Barnes-Tilley, called Heaslip into a meeting with a member of the human resources department. Tilley reportedly informed her that the college would not renew her contract due to her “bringing outside pressure” on the college to move classes online. Earlier in the day, the provost told another Collin College faculty member, Suzanne Jones, that her contract would not be renewed due to her public statements on the college’s handling of COVID-19 (see report).

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the nonrenewal of a scholar’s contract in apparent retaliation for nonviolent, responsible exercise of academic freedom. University authorities should refrain from retaliating against scholars for responsible expression critical of their institution. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, dismissals aimed at restricting or retaliating against such activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.