On January 28, 2022, Collin College officials informed Michael Phillips, a history professor and race relations scholar, that his contract would not be renewed, apparently due to his public and private commentary on issues such as the removal of Confederate statues, the mass shooting in El Paso, and the college’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to a lawsuit filed on March 8, 2022 by Phillips, who is represented by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Collin College has disciplined him on several occasions for exercising his freedom of expression. The disciplined actions include co-authoring an open letter of academics calling for the removal of Confederate statues in August 2017, interviewing with the Washington Post regarding the mass shooting in El Paso in August 2019, posting criticism of Collin College’s Covid-19 response on his personal Facebook page in June 2020 and August 2021, and suggesting during one of his classes that students consider wearing masks in September 2021, which the school had prohibited.
On August 31, 2021, two administrators informed Phillips that they were not recommending the renewal of his contract and he consequently filed a grievance against his non-renewal, which was denied in December. Despite the East Texas Historical Association naming Phillips “Educator of the Year” and a faculty council recommending that his contract be renewed, Phillips was told that the college’s president had approved his non-renewal on January 28, 2022 and later that day he was provided a notice in writing. Two other former Collin College faculty have filed similar lawsuits for retaliating against free speech, while another has publicly made similar allegations against the college but has not sought legal recourse.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about a college dismissing a professor for the peaceful exercise of academic freedom and freedom of expression – conduct which is protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States is a party. University authorities must refrain from taking action to restrict or chill nonviolent, responsible expressive activity. In addition to harm to the immediate victim, the dismissal of a professor for peaceful, public commentary, especially on matters relating to their discipline, undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.