Collin College Faces Real Consequences After AAUP Censure.

Collin College, located in North Texas, has been in the midst of a controversy for years. Numerous professors have accused the administration of stifling academic freedom, leading to criticism from prominent organizations that advocate free speech and academic rights. The university’s latest report card brought no relief; it received yet another failing grade from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and was added to the censure list alongside Emporia State University in Kansas.

Collin College’s censure comes in the wake of a scathing AAUP report that detailed “egregious” academic freedom violations against three professors: Lora Burnett, Michael Phillips, and Suzanne Jones. All three of these educators took the college to court, with Burnett being fired after criticizing then-Vice President Mike Pence on social media in October 2020. The school ultimately agreed to pay her $70,000, along with her attorneys’ fees.

Critics assert that the college has yet to learn from its mistakes. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) named Collin College one of the 10 worst colleges for free speech for the third year in a row. The future of education is at stake, warn academics in Texas and across the country. Republican lawmakers are working to eliminate tenure and undo diversity, equity, and inclusion programs while alleging that public schools have a liberal bias and have fought to erase mention of race, sex, or gender from curricula.

Academic freedom is enshrined in Supreme Court opinions about the First Amendment, said Burnett, and it is critical for educators and students to be free to think and speak their minds both inside and outside the classroom. Marisela Cadena-Smith, spokesperson for the college, expressed disappointment that the AAUP had not recognized that institutions must abide by both academic rights and academic duties. She asserted that tenure and academic freedom should not be viewed as unqualified privileges that external groups can demand for their own purposes.

The school’s appearance on the AAUP’s censure list is comparable to a poor restaurant rating issued by the public health department, according to Burnett. Although less wealthy patrons may be forced to eat substandard food, those who can afford to do so will likely go elsewhere. The AAUP’s censure list, she emphasizes, has teeth. The school risks losing accreditation or being denied funds and grants. Burnett called on Collin College’s leadership to act responsibly.

The AAUP’s policies are the gold standard of the profession, wrote its National President Irene Mulvey in an op-ed published in Inside Higher Education titled “Collin College Should Clean Up Its Act.” Collin College’s failure to uphold academic due process or tenure makes claims of academic freedom ring hollow, she said. Faculty members lose their jobs for expressing opinions, speaking to the press in their areas of expertise without administrative approval, drawing the ire of politicians, questioning the wisdom of institutional policies, affiliating with groups disfavored by the administration, and teaching challenging ideas that make students uncomfortable.

According to Burnett, right-wing authoritarians, like those in Florida, have worked to undermine academic freedom in higher education throughout the country. She fears that Collin College could be attempting to erode freedom of inquiry and thought for crass political reasons. If the college refuses to change course, it will remain a “mini-dictatorship” in North Texas, but its students deserve better, she added. Collin College has tremendous potential for academic excellence, and it is unfortunate that its administration “has decided that that just doesn’t matter.” Burnett believes that either the courts or new college leadership will have to compel the college to change course.

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