Thursday, February 25, 2021

Collin College draws the ire of free speech advocacy group

FIRE names local college among Top 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech

In a Feb. 17 release, he Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) included Collin College in its list of the worst institutions of higher education in terms of violating individuals rights to free speech.

The organization, founded in 1999, took issue with the college’s handling of an incident in which history professor Lora Burnett publicly criticized Pence via Twitter during the vice presidential debate. FIRE claims that while the school administration noted that the tweets may be protected by the First Amendment, privately the college had received backlash from elected officials and conservative supporters, many calling for her termination.

Ultimately, according to FIRE, Burnett received  written warning for using her school email to respond to critics, a move the non-profit said is covered by the email use policy under “incidental personal use.”

Collin College’s Spring Creek Campus. (Oldag07_CC BY SA 3.0)

“FIRE wrote to Collin College, calling for the college to affirm that Burnett’s tweets are protected by the First Amendment and rescind its written warning,” the release noted. “The college’s response raised, for no apparent reason, the length of Burnett’s contract, implying that Collin College might not renew that contract. FIRE wrote again, renewing our request that the college affirm Burnett’s comments are protected speech and refrain from retaliating against Burnett — including by refusing to renew her contract — for her speech.”

FIRE also pointed to earlier actions taken against two other employees when they elected not to renew the contracts of two faculty members, Audra Heaslip and Suzanne Jones, which FIRE noted “coincidentally” happened to be two of the three officers of a newly-formed chapter of the Texas Faculty Association, a non-bargaining faculty union

Both Heaslip and Jones had criticized the college’s handling of COVID-19, and Jones had been criticized for signing a 2017 petition for the removal of Confederate memorials and referenced he school’s name in her signature.

These issues led FIRE to include the local college in its list which included such universities as St. Johns and NYU.

“Every single college on this list had a choice whether to suppress the viewpoints of their own students and faculty members — and every one chose to make the decisions that landed them on this list,” said FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff. “We expected 2020 to be quieter than normal as institutions focused on mitigating effects of the pandemic. But what we saw astounded us. As COVID cases exploded, so did FIRE’s cases of campus rights violations. Last year was the busiest in FIRE’s history, showing that while nearly every facet of our lives changed during the pandemic, at least one aspect remained shockingly constant: Administrators will continue to censor students and faculty members for no damn reason.”

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