The American Association of University Professors on Monday published a report on Collin College’s dismissal of three professors, Lora Burnett, Suzanne Jones and Michael Phillips. Collin is a community college in Texas.
According to the AAUP, Burnett in October 2020 tweeted about the U.S. vice presidential debate, including a tweet 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 Burnett’s 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 Jones and Phillips, the AAUP said, 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 AAUP 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 report concludes that the conditions for shared governance and academic freedom at Collin College are “grossly inadequate.”
A spokeswoman for Collin responded with a statement: “The unparalleled success of Collin College is guided by a commitment and focus to our college’s educational mission which is shaped by the policies approved by our own publicly elected Board of Trustees. While Collin College recognizes the long history of the American Association of University Professors as an advocacy group and, now, as an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, the college has never adopted AAUP’s standards, nor has tenure ever been offered at Collin College. Instead, we are guided by the standards set out in our own board policies.”
She continued, “We are therefore disheartened to see AAUP’s continued refusal 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, and that tenure and academic freedom are not unqualified privileges that can be extorted by external groups for their own purposes.”