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Collin College candidates talk free speech, tenure at forum

by | Apr 26, 2023 | Latest

Seven candidates for the Collin College Board of Trustees took part in in a question-and-answer forum on Monday, April 17.

The event was organized by Maggie Whitt of Murphy, who had staged two previous voter information sessions.

The candidates included Trustee Fred Moses and Place 1 challenger Megan Wallace, Trustee Jay Saad and Place 2 challenger Scott Coleman, and Trustee Stacey Donald and Place 3 challengers Cathie Alexander and Joe Minissale.

Place 2 candidate Philip Timmons did not attend the forum.

About 30 people attended the event that was live streamed on Facebook from the Murphy City Council Chambers.

Each candidate had one minute to answer questions Whitt posed from cards submitted by audience members.

The first question involved the First Amendment rights of professors following the non-renewal of three professors’ contracts for sharing opinions with students.

Wallace, a full-time law student, said constitutional protection of freedom of speech is paramount for a functioning democracy, and the college owes it to taxpayers to manage money better by avoiding expensive lawsuits if possible.

Coleman, a former attorney who is now an assistant principal, said, “These lawsuits have cost the Collin College a lot of money and it’s also cost us our reputation.” He estimated the cases had cost the college about $1 million and there should be a policy in place to prevent similar things from happening.

Saad, a retired insurance executive, said, “Everybody has freedom of speech. I’m a big believer in freedom of speech. I support freedom of speech. But you can’t represent the college. You can represent yourself, but you can’t represent the college.”

Donald, a career college educator, said, “I very much believe in the First Amendment right for our faculty.”

Minissale, a hospital president, said it was important to recruit and retain the best faculty and staff “to deliver great outcomes for the students.” But it also would involve enforcing policies. He said educators should “focus on the job at hand – which is educating the kids” and not espouse their personal views and opinions.

Moses, who had been on the board for six years, said the college had about 1,500 full-time faculty and about 1,500 part-time faculty. “I’m for free speech,” he said. But although professors could have opinions, they were asked not to say they were speaking on behalf of the college.

Another audience member asked whether the candidates would favor granting tenure to professors or continuing the current system of three-year contracts.

Saad said tenure is usually provided at large research-based universities and only two colleges in Texas have tenure. Collin College has a 32% better success ratio for its students, he said, adding, “The reality is that it does not make a difference for our college,” he said.

Donald said, “I have found it is too much for a professor to be constantly working for a three-year contract renewal especially if you have been at a place and proven yourself over and over.” She said the renewals were an extensive, exhausting process that put too much pressure on professors.

Minissale said, “Tenure is not at all the norm at all the colleges and universities in the state of Texas.” He said that with a 98% retention rate for faculty and staff the three-year contract appeared to be working well and it should not be fixed if it was not broken.

Alexander said some schools require faculty to “publish or perish,” but that was not the case at Collin College.

Moses said the present system was working well and the college’s 98% retention rate was a great success.

Wallace said, “I believe in rewarding good work” by offering professors longer contracts, especially if they had been at the college for a long time.

Coleman said the school needed to retain the best professors, not just for three years, but forever.

By Bob Wieland

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