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A College Warned a Professor About Her Tweet. She Says That’s Retaliation

Historians in the News
tags: academic freedom, academic labor, COVID-19



An outspoken professor received a disciplinary warning on Tuesday for, according to her college, tweeting information “that is not accurate” regarding another scholar’s death. The professor described the admonition as retaliatory.

On January 13, L.D. Burnett, a professor of history at Collin College, in Wylie, Tex., shared an obituary for Ralph Gregory Hendrickson on Twitter. According to the obituary, Hendrickson, who died at age 60, “worked for various colleges,” including Collin College. (Burnett is a Chronicle contributor.)

The obit does not specify how he died. But a friend had sent Burnett a post from the Twitter account @FacesOfCOVID, which circulates stories and remembrances of those who have died after contracting the coronavirus. The account shared a picture of Hendrickson and the tweet read, “A professor of government, a brother, a son, always a friend to the forgotten and a protector of all. A gentle giant. Our hearts are shattered.”

In a reply to that tweet, an account that appears to belong to one of Hendrickson’s siblings wrote: “This is my brother. I submitted to @FacesOfCOVID because I’ll be damned if I let him be forgotten. I’m so, so angry and so, so heartbroken.”

Burnett then searched Hendrickson’s name on Google and found his Rate My Professor page, which says he works at Collin College. There was at least one student rating for the fall of 2020, and more entries for 2018. So she shared the obituary on Twitter and wrote, “Another @collincollege professor has died of COVID.”

“My tweet didn’t claim that Collin College killed him, or anything like that,” Burnett said. “I just was noting that another professor had died.” A couple months earlier, Iris Meda, a nurse who came out of her recent retirement to train aspiring nurses for Collin College, died after contracting Covid-19.

On Tuesday, six days after her tweet about Hendrickson, Burnett received a “Level 1 Warning,” signed by her immediate and next-level supervisors and a human-resources employee.

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Burnett announced the disciplinary warning on Twitter, calling it a way for her employer to “harass me with unnecessary paperwork as a way of punishing me for protected speech.”

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education

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