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Education

We’ve heard from professors dismissed by Collin College. Now hear from some students

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Bill Zeeble
/
KERA News
Wearing a blue suit and tie, American history professor Michael Phillips lectures in front of his Collin College history 1302 students. The course surveys the U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction to the present. This April 2022 class was one of the last Phillips taught. His contract ran out in May and Collin College chose not to renew it.

Over the past year, Collin College has generated publicity for firing some professors who then sued the school for alleged free speech violations. Instructors have spoken about their circumstances and school administrators have released statements.

As 14-year Collin College history professor Michael Phillips lectured about African-Americans’ access to education before and after the Civil War, his teaching career and semester were winding down.

The college told him earlier this year his contract won’t be renewed. Why?

In a letter to the Dallas Morning News that Phillips co-authored, he said local Civil War monuments should be removed. The College didn’t appreciate the letter.

In his Collin College History 1302 class on the Plano campus, Phillips’ student Karen Escobar said she didn’t mind.

“Really, it's just him kind of expressing how he feels on the subject instead of imposing that on us,” Escobar said. “And I've seen a lot of other professors on the other side of the spectrum being very political as well and not getting reprimanded for their actions. So I don't think that what he's going through is valid.”

What he was going through amounted to numerous challenges from the college over his public comments, not just those about Civil War monuments. He also spoke out regarding a lack of COVID-19 safety measures on campus. And before the pandemic, he was quoted in the Washington Post about the 2019 El Paso Walmart shooter who had attended Collin College. The school liked none of it.

Taking a different position

Many of his studentshowever, didn’t know any of this. Laurel Sells took this class because she’d taken a Phillips class before.

“He’s very informative. He made sure that you get as many sides as he knows. He tries to keep you as informed as he can. He's open to opposition,” Sells said. “He wants you to talk to him about stuff and bring up stuff that you think is important and he'll talk to you about it. And he doesn't want to make you feel bad about what you know, what you think. He just wants you to be as well informed as you can be.”

For Trey Barnett, the class simply fit into his schedule. He didn’t know anything about Phillips.

"I think he’s a very good teacher from my point of view,” said Barnett. “He’s straight forward, definitely shows history as what it was. That way, especially as college students, you [are] able to learn from past history and try not to make the same mistakes as had been made back then.”

Barnett wasn’t alone. Brandon Balams said he signed up for the class to meet a school requirement.

“So just it's just another It's just another class. Honestly, it's just another class. It's a good class though.”

Laurel Sells said, to her it was more than just a good class; and that’s because of Phillips. The professor has written a book about history and race in Dallas and is researching another on eugenics in Texas. Sells felt Phillips was not an interchangeable gear in the college’s education machine.

“Professor Phillips being replaced is going to be very difficult,” Sells said. “And I feel kind of bad because as a community college, it's a lot easier for people to get admitted in here and to, like, pay for it. So he's an excellent professor teaching at this level and is able to teach a lot more people.”

As of now, Phillips won’t teach anyone, at least not in a classroom. But while his Collin College contract was not renewed this year after nearly a decade and half, Southern Methodist University just named him a senior research fellow at the Clements Center for Southwest studies. The year-long appointment will allow him to keep researching and writing his eugenics book. Collin College said in a statement it “extends well wishes to former colleagues in their future pursuits.”