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Former professor accepts $70,000 from Collin College to end her First Amendment lawsuit

Glass front entrance of Collin Community College Wiley campus
Collin Community College's Wiley campus where Lora Burnett teaches.

Collin College on Tuesday agreed to pay former history professor Lora Burnett $70,000 to end the lawsuit she brought after the school failed to renew her contract. She termed the payment a victory in her defense of her free speech. The school disagrees.

Former Collin College history professor Dr. Lora Burnett accepted a payment of $70,000 Tuesday from the school to end her first amendment lawsuit against the college.

Burnett’s suit cited several instances where she accused the college of violating her free speech rights. The first occurred in October 2020, during the live, televised vice presidential debate between former Vice President Mike Pence and then-challenger Kamala Harris. Burnett tweeted several critical comments about the college and Pence. The following spring, Collin College failed to renew her contract, effectively firing her.

“I hope I am the last professor that Collin College fires for exercising her First Amendment rights, but if history is any indication, no one who has an opinion is safe from Collin College leaders’ thin skin,” Burnett said in a statement Tuesday. “We should all be protective of the rights granted by the Constitution — and stand up to defend them when they’re violated.”

Burnett was also critical of the college’s COVID-19 safety protocols. After a college colleague died from COVID-19, she tweeted “Another @collincollege professor has died of COVID.” The college then issued a formal warning to Burnett.

The history professor was represented by FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has called the payment a victory.

“Lora bravely stood up not just for her own rights, but for the rights of all professors who encounter censorship by their administrations,” said FIRE attorney Greg Greubel.

Collin College disagrees with that assessment. In a statement, officials said “the college and its leadership did not admit liability which means that Dr. Burnett unequivocally did not prevail in the litigation.”

More lawsuits are pending against Collin College from former employees who also say their rights were violated.

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