The college recently fired Dr. Phillips, an award winning historian, for speaking out about the college’s Covid-19 policies on his personal social media
By Luci Garza
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 20, 2022
TEXAS– In late January, Dr. Michael Phillips, Collin College’s resident racial relations expert and history professor, was fired. On March 8, Dr. Philipps filed a lawsuit with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), claiming the administration had violated his first amendment rights to free speech and expression and unfairly terminated him.
Since August of 2017, Dr. Philipps has been advocating for the removal of Confederate monuments in Dallas. He wrote an open letter in the Dallas Morning News on behalf of a group of historians, calling for the removal of these statues. In response, Collin College administrators reprimanded the professor for violating university policy. The policy stops faculty from criticizing the institution’s practices in statements to the media. Two years later, Dr. Phillips was interviewed about a racially motivated shooting in El Paso, Texas, about a former Collin College student. Although Dr. Phillips spoke as an expert on race relations, administrators still disciplined the professor for violating the university’s directive forbidding faculty to speak with the press about the shooting.
In the fall of 2021, Dr. Phillips criticized the college’s pandemic policies on his personal Facebook page. Additionally, while teaching a class on the history of pandemics, he recommended that the students wear masks. The college formally reprimanded him for speaking negatively on social media about the university and discussing the mask mandate with his students.
Staff Attorney Kaitlyn Patton works with FIRE to represent students and faculty to challenge first amendment violations by public universities. She has been working on Dr. Phillip’s case.
In a conversation with TPF, Patton said, “At Collin College in particular, there appears to be little to no support for free speech among the administration—the College's policies and administrative backlash against professors who speak out on public issues has created a regime of silence.” According to Patton, before issues with the college faculty were flagged, there was little to no opportunity for professors to speak up and advocate for their rights.
Dr. Phillips is the third professor to be terminated for exercising their first amendment right to speak freely. History professors Dr. Suzanne Jones and Lora Burnett were also dismissed from the school last year. The college’s lack of tenure system allows the administration to make arbitrary decisions about firing professors who refuse to accept the school’s policy of censorship.
“Dr. Phillips is suing to reverse this retaliatory termination and to create change on Collin College's campus both through policy revisions and holding administrators like President Matkin accountable so that they think twice before violating faculty rights in the future,” said Patton.
TPF Cofounder Charlotte Hampton commented, “Our generation is tightening the screws around what can and what cannot be said, and universities are mirroring the wills of their students. But outlawing discourse is antithetical to cancel culture’s aims. It only stunts progress.
“Dr. Phillips’ case is particularly interesting to TPF because the increase of censorship on college campuses is specific to young students. Silencing experts will have unforeseen consequences.”
In the state of Texas, there are several laws established that guarantee professors’ right to free speech. One such law is Senate Bill 18, passed in 2019, which protects expressive activities in public higher education institutions.
On a young person’s place protecting free speech on campus, Patton said, “The most important things that American teenagers can do to fight censorship and free expression infringements are to learn about their First Amendment rights and—more importantly—to use them!”
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