Collin College history professor says his contract won’t be renewed because he encouraged masks and spoke out about racism
He also said he was reprimanded for reporting other faculty members who were fired after questioning the school’s COVID-19 protocols.
COLLIN COUNTY, Texas — When Dr. Michael Phillips’ contract with Collin College ends in May, he will not receive a renewal offer. Phillips has been a professor of history at the Plano campus of Collin College for nearly 14 years.
He received the letter on January 28. Information provided by Collin College indicates that school policy requires staff with multi-year contracts to be informed that their contracts will not be renewed until January 31.
“There’s always a shock when that happens,” Phillips said. “But there has been an ongoing war on the First Amendment and free speech at Collin College for a number of years.”
Phillips said his department received guidance on curriculum and curriculum content last fall. Staff members were instructed to ‘remove any details requiring or suggesting face masks/social distancing’.
“We couldn’t do it in our program or in person in classes,” Phillips said.
Phillips shared the policy on social media. He said he also presented the advice to his students, as part of a discussion on mask-wearing and pandemics.
“I told them they should consider the impact of what they’re doing on others…that we had a raging pandemic,” Phillips said. “I said, ‘Look, I’m not going to judge you. I hate wearing masks.'”
Phillips said he also gave his students an essay on the topic of epidemics and pandemics throughout history, from the Spanish flu to COVID-19 and the impact of wearing masks on the timeline of pandemics. throughout history.
He received a disciplinary document following his presentation.
“They said the students supposedly complained,” Phillips said.
In the document Phillips provided to the WFAA, his supervisor notes that Phillips showed his class a PowerPoint presentation that had been presented at a division meeting, but was shown without context.
The supervisor who completed the form used the term “continuous conduct” more than once, stating that Phillips violated school board policy and code of ethics.
He said the problems he had with college stemmed from him speaking out on issues – primarily racism. He also said he was reprimanded for reporting other faculty members who were fired after questioning the school’s COVID-19 protocols.
In 2017, he received a letter from the college after he co-wrote an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News about the importance of removing Confederate statues and monuments.
The letter stated that staff were free to express their opinions, but that they should not do so in a way that represented the college or that alluded to their opinion as representing the college’s point of view.
“I was also told that I might make the college look bad because of my advocacy for the removal of racist statues, so that was kind of my first major encounter with the college on free speech,” Phillips said.
In 2019, after the El Paso shooting, Phillips was interviewed for an article in The Washington Post about the role racial issues in Texas played in the shooting. The suspect in that shooting had been a student at Collin College from 2017 to 2019, and the college had directed staff to send all media interview requests through the college’s communications department.
Phillips said he did not discuss the shooting itself for the story and asked the reporter not to include his workplace, but his request was not granted. He also said his goal was to speak on the issue of race, as an expert on the subject.
“They said it was a violation of policy for my affiliation with Collin College to be used,” Phillips said.
Collin College declined to participate in an interview for this story, but provided a statement that read, in part, “Our faculty members sign fixed-term contracts that – by law – end in May of their respective terms.While we understand that a faculty If the member alleges otherwise, the fact is that once faculty members come to the end of their contract, the college can make the decision not to continue this relationship, which is within our rights as an employer.
The college also provided an illustration of its contract renewal process for staff, indicating that the process takes into account recommendations and feedback from a number of people at different levels.
Phillips said he went to the school’s Council of Excellence, which is one of the groups mentioned in the school’s outline.
“They recommended me for an extension,” Phillips said.
He also pointed out that he wrote an award-winning book on racism in Dallas and won numerous teaching awards. The East Texas Historical Association, the Academic Freedom Alliance, and the American Historical Association all wrote letters condemning the college’s decision.
In its statement, Collin College maintained that it had not terminated the contract of any current professor. Phillips equates a non-renewal, at this point in his career, with a dismissal.
“It was an atmosphere of terror. The teachers are afraid to talk about anything. They are afraid of getting in trouble for what they teach in class. I was disciplined for teaching facts,” did he declare.
Phillips said he’s not convinced he’ll get his job back, but he’s hired a legal representative who he hopes will lead to a change in college policy.
“I hope they implement policy changes that protect professors,” Phillips said.