AAUP accuses Collin College of ‘egregious’ academic freedom violations

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Dive Brief:

  • Collin College committed “egregious violations” of academic freedoms when it dismissed three professors who publicly criticized the Texas institution, according to the American Association of University Professors.
  • The faculty group accused Collin, a community college district, of treading on faculty rights in a report released Monday. All three professors referenced in AAUP’s report had sued the institution, alleging free speech violations, and two of them have settled.
  • However, a college spokesperson said in an emailed statement that Collin recognizes AAUP’s advocacy, but does not adhere to its standards. It’s disappointing AAUP continually refuses “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,” the spokesperson said.

Dive Insight:

The institution, known formally as the Collin County Community College District, drew national attention in 2020 when one of its professors, Lora Burnett, tweeted that former Vice President Mike Pence should “shut his little demon mouth.”

This led to a firestorm of conservative criticism, which culminated in Collin officials not renewing Burnett’s contract. She sued in 2021, alleging infringement on her constitutional rights, and settled for $70,000 plus attorney fees. 

Last year, Collin settled a second lawsuit from another professor, Suzanne Jones, who alleged the college retaliated and fired her over her public critiques of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Jones returned to the college last year and is being paid an annual $230,000 salary for two years under the settlement. She will resign in 2025, according to the deal.

A third, similar lawsuit from a former professor, Michael Phillips, is ongoing.

AAUP documented the circumstances behind these professors’ dismissals. It said in an emailed statement that “conditions for shared governance and academic freedom at Collin College are ‘grossly inadequate.’”

The report’s findings could lead the faculty group to censure Collin. This does not come with formal consequences but is intended to broadcast that an institution does not support academic freedom and thus is not welcoming for educators.

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