Education

Two Years Running: Collin College Again Named One of Nation's 10 Worst Schools for Free Speech

Collin College made FIRE's list in 2021, too.
Collin College made FIRE's list in 2021, too. illustration by Sarah Schumacher
With so-called culture wars erupting on campuses nationwide, it's not easy to stand out in the campaign to crack down on academic freedom. But stand out Collin College has, earning itself an unfortunate distinction that probably won’t make its way onto the school website.

On Wednesday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released this year’s list of 10 worst colleges for free speech. For the second year in a row, Collin College made the cut.

The timing is pretty impeccable. This week, history professor Michael Phillips became the latest in a string of faculty members to claim they were fired for exercising their free speech. Last week, Lora Burnett, a former history professor, accepted the college's offer to pay her $70,000 and attorneys' fees after she sued the school for violating her First Amendment rights.

In its summary of Collin College’s constitutional crises, FIRE cites the controversial terminations of Burnett and professors Audra Heaslip and Suzanne Jones, the last of whom has also filed a lawsuit against the school.

Plus, FIRE notes that last year, the college attempted to ban public speakers from expressing “anger” during board meetings. (Sounds a bit like trying to hold a moonbeam in your hand, no?)

Speaking to FIRE, Burnett proved to be prescient: “I hope I am the last professor that Collin College fires for exercising her First Amendment rights, but if history is any indication, no one who has an opinion is safe from Collin College leaders’ thin skin.”

As we now know, she wouldn't be the last. FIRE updated its blurb with a note about Phillips’ unfolding case, saying it’s “reigniting its fight against Collin College” and telling readers to “stay tuned!”

Collin College did not return the Observer’s request for comment.

The school’s back-to-back bad publicity is prompting many academics to take notice, including Robert P. George, the McCormick professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University. “Whether it's Collin College or Georgetown Law School, it's time for academic administrators to get the memo: Your job is to honor and protect academic freedom, not to police the thought and censor the speech of students and faculty,” he said in a tweet on Monday.

Next, Sen. Ted Cruz weighed in, sharing George's tweet along with the word, “Amen.” Huh, we didn't see that one coming.
Speaking to the Observer, Adam Steinbaugh, a First Amendment lawyer with FIRE, cited Einstein’s definition of insanity: repeating the same thing over and over but expecting different results. The way Steinbaugh sees it, Collin College hasn’t learned any lessons and seems intent to continue suppressing the voices of faculty and students.

These cases are tarnishing the college’s reputation, he said, adding that the stifling of free speech there could be even more pervasive. “This has been long-running, and it’s not just one case; it’s not just one professor,” Steinbaugh said. “It’s a lot of faculty members, and these are just the ones that we know about.”
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Simone Carter is a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer who graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter

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