FIRE Lawsuit Against Collin College

A Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Press Release discussing this Complaint.

Today, history professor Michael Phillips sued Collin College, its president, H. Neil Matkin, and other university officials for violating his constitutional rights by firing him for talking about history and criticizing the college’s COVID-19 policies.

Represented by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Phillips is the third professor to sue Collin College for muzzling faculty criticism, and the fourth, since January 2021, to be fired for criticizing the college’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic….

The unconstitutional campaign began against Matkin and Collin College in August 2017. Phillips, an expert in race relations in Dallas, authored an open letter in the Dallas Morning News on behalf of a group of historians, calling for the removal of Confederate monuments in Dallas. Phillips, a Collin College Professor was identified in his letter. Phillips was summoned to meet with administrators. They informed him that Phillips had violated College policy by identifying himself as a professor at Collin College.

Two years later, a Washington Post reporter interviewed Phillips to provide context for a story about a former Collin College student who targeted Mexicans in a mass shooting at a Texas Walmart. Phillips was referred to as “a Collin College Professor”, but Phillips spoke on his behalf as an expert in race relations. Phillips was issued an “Employee Coach Form” by administrators for violating Matkin’s constitutional gag order that forbids faculty members speaking to the media regarding the shooting.

In June 2020 and in August 2021, Phillips criticized the college’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic on his Facebook page. Administrators warned Phillips after his initial post and asked him in a meeting: “Do you still wish to work here?” After his second, the college asked him to sign a formalreprimand.

Phillips then suggested to students that they wear masks during a lecture on the history of pandemics in September 2021. Phillips was summoned to another meeting by administrators, where he was told that students should not be exposed to masks again.

On Jan. 28, Collin College informed Phillips — who had then-recently been named “Educator of the Year” by the East Texas Historical Association — that his contract would not be renewed. Phillips also learned that the college’s Council on Excellence, ​​a group of faculty members who evaluate faculty applying for new contracts, had approved him for a three-year contract extension. Nevertheless, Matkin and his administration chose to disregard the recommendation of their faculty and substitute their own unconstitutional motives to terminate Phillips….

Retaliation against professors who speak on issues of public importance in colleges is a violation of the First Amendment rights. Phillips, Matkin and Collin College officials did exactly this to Phillips. Phillips’ lawsuit challenges the constitutionality and justification for his dismissal by challenging the policies of Collin College Matkin.

FIRE is representing Phillips, the third ex-collin College professor. Former history professor Lora Burnett recently prevailed in her own First Amendment lawsuit against the school after she was fired for criticizing public officials and the Collin College administration. Collin College has agreed to pay Burnett $38,000 and $70,000 damages.

FIRE now also represents Suzanne Jones in the lawsuit she filed against Collin College in September. Like Phillips, Jones was fired for calling for the removal of Confederate monuments and for challenging the college’s COVID-19 reopening plans, among other protected activities….