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Fired Collin College professor lands new job at Southern Methodist University

IMG_8352 (2).JPG Man in dark suit facing us is in front of students in his college class.
Bill Zeeble
History Professor Michael Phillips teaches U.S. History in one of the last classes he taught at Collin College before his contract ended in May. His contract was not renewed after 14 years at the school. He's suing the school, alleging a violation of his free speech rights. Phillips just was a named a Clements Center fellow at SMU.

Embattled former Collin College history professor Michael Phillips has just been named a senior research fellow at Southern Methodist University’s Clements Center for Southwest Studies.

After more than a year of controversy over allegations of free speech violations between Phillips and college administrators, Phillips said he was fired by the school in May. His contract was not renewed, despite years of student and peer approval, ongoing scholarship, and honors earned from other historians.

For fourteen years, Michael Phillips taught American history at Collin College, focusing on the years after the Civil War. He’s considered an expert on Southwestern history and the history of racism. His 2006 book, White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001, is used in various college history classes.

Phillips expresses his left-leaning views publicly on social media and says that's his right under the First Amendment. His views do not represent those of Collin College and he’s never said otherwise.

But the school has taken offense over some of Phillips’s public comments.

-The professor co-authored a letter to the Dallas Morning News advocating the removal of Confederate monuments. He signed the letter with his name, title, and college. The school worried he was representing the college and would make them look bad.

- Administrators objected again when he was quoted in a Washington Post article about the Texas gunman who drove to El Paso and killed 23 people at a Walmart in a largely Hispanic community. The shooting was labeled a hate crime. The student had attended Collin College. Phillips was quoted as an expert on racism.

- Phillips further antagonized his employer when he joined others demanding stricter safety measures in the height of the pandemic. Neil Matkin, the president of the Collin College system, at the time downplayed the severity of Covid-19. The college reopened to in-person learning sooner than many.

Collin College refused to publicly comment about Phillips before or after the contract non-renewal, calling it a personnel matter.

Phillips said Monday that Southern Methodist University had followed news accounts about him at Collin College and knew he was available.

“I think they’re invested in academic freedom, free speech,” said Phillips, about SMU. “And they see me as a major scholar of Texas history, Southwestern history, history of racism.”

He said that reflects poorly on Collin College.

KERA requested a comment or reaction from Collin College. The school says it extends well well wishes to former colleagues in their future pursuits.

At SMU, Phillips will continue research on a book about eugenics in Texas. He said his position as a Fellow will last a year.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.