Today, the AAUP published an investigative report concerning the Collin College administration’s summary termination of the services of professors Lora Burnett, Suzanne Jones, and Michael Phillips.
Professor Burnett became the subject of national controversy in October 2020 for her tweets about the US vice-presidential debate, including one that urged Vice President Mike Pence to “shut his little demon mouth.” A state representative texted Collin’s president to point out that Burnett was “paid with taxpayer dollars”; the president replied that he was “aware of the situation” and “would deal with it.” 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.
In acting against 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’s action against Jones also invoked “misuse of the college’s name” because she had failed to prevent the Texas Faculty Association, of which she was a statewide and chapter officer, from listing her as a Collin College faculty member on its website and Facebook page.
The investigating committee found that the Collin administration’s actions involved “egregious violations” of all three faculty members’ academic freedom to speak as citizens and to criticize institutional policies, and, in the case of Phillips, of academic freedom in teaching. The committee determined that the administration dismissed Jones and Phillips from their appointments without a pretermination hearing before an elected faculty body in which the burden of demonstrating adequate cause for dismissal rests with the administration. The committee also found that the administration failed to afford Burnett the opportunity to petition an elected faculty committee to review her allegation that the nonrenewal decision violated her academic freedom.
The report concludes that the conditions for shared governance and academic freedom at Collin College are “grossly inadequate.”
The full report is available here.
Senior Program Officer, AAUP Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance