Feb 7, 2022 - COVID

Texas professor dismissed after recommending students mask

A professor professes

Michael Phillips talks about the extensive history of racism in Dallas. Photo courtesy of Michael Phillips

A professor at Collin College says his contract won’t be renewed because he spoke publicly about the school’s COVID-19 protocols.

Why it matters: North Texas has become a flashpoint in the national battle over free speech in public education, with an increase in calls to ban books and strife over restrictions on how teachers can discuss racism.

What happened: Last August, Phillips tweeted a photo of a presentation from the administration that said faculty and staff could not request, require or recommend students wear a mask.

  • While lecturing about the 1918 influenza epidemic, Phillips says, he instructed students to “think about the consequences of what you’re doing and the risks you might pose to your community.”
  • Phillips tells Axios that school administrators suggested he say he was leaving voluntarily to “construct a narrative” that avoided negative attention.

What they’re saying: “You can’t have an environment of learning in a situation like that. It has such a pernicious effect both in and out of the classroom,” Phillips says.

  • “It’s become the panopticon. Faculty members are even afraid to speak to each other.”

The other side: Collin College has said it won’t comment on personnel matters.

  • “Given that the renewal or non-renewal of faculty contracts is a routine operational matter at the college, we are dismayed at the efforts of some individuals to present this as anything other than what it truly is,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Zoom out: Last week, the Academic Freedom Alliance called on the school to reverse its decision to dismiss Phillips.

  • "Professor Phillips is being retaliated against for his constitutionally protected criticism of the college’s administration," Keith Whittington, chair of the AFA’s academic committee, wrote in an open letter to Collin College District President H. Neil Matkin.

Context: Phillips is the fourth Collin College professor to not have a contract renewed amid concerns over free speech and academic freedom.

  • Phillips was notified about his dismissal just two days after another professor, Lora Burnett, settled a lawsuit with the college for $70,000. Burnett was dismissed after she tweeted that then-Vice President Mike Pence had a “little demon mouth,” according to the Dallas Observer.
  • A lawsuit from another professor, Suzanne Jones, is ongoing.
  • Last year the The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a particularly unflattering profile of Matkin.

Of note: Collin College doesn’t have faculty tenure. Full-time professors sign multi-year contracts with the school.

Whats next: Phillips has legal representation.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Dallas.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Dallas stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Dallas.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more