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Former Governor's School professor fired after controversial lecture at WSSU, files lawsuit with NC DPI

Dr. David Phillips, a former professor at NC Governer's School, sues the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, claiming his First Amendment rights were violated.
Credit: WFMY News 2

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A North Carolina professor is suing the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, claiming his freedom of speech was violated after a controversial lecture he held on the campus of Winston-Salem State University, according to CBS17.

CBS17 said Dr. David Phillips, stated he was laid off from working as a professor at the Governer's School West at WSSU in 2021 after holding optional seminars. 

Dr. Phillips's attorney, Hal Frampton, said all he wants to do is go back and teach at the Governer's School again, according to CBS17. 

He thinks it's important for students to be able to think for themselves and explore other ways of thinking. 

In a 50-plus page court document filed in Wake County, all the events that led up to the day and the day after Dr. Phillps was fired are thoroughly detailed. 

“He offered a series of optional seminars, trying to foster intellectual diversity in those seminars,” explained Frampton, senior counsel for the Center for Conscience Initiatives at Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Phillips. “He critiqued some concepts from critical race theory.”

CBS17 said after eight years of working as an educator at the accelerated academic summer program, Dr. Phillips was starting to receive pushback, according to a paper filed by the group. 

After the lecture, students and staff raised concerns and questions which Dr. Phillips said he stayed behind to 'calmly' address all answers to their questions, according to the lawsuit. 

Yet, it wasn’t enough.

“The next thing you know, Dr. Phillips was unceremoniously fired, ironically, the day after he gave a seminar on the importance of viewpoint diversity in higher education,” said Frampton. “There was no… ‘here’s what people are saying happened’…’ can you tell us the real story?’ There was no investigation. Nothing that you would expect to see in a case like this.”

In previous years, Dr. Phillips received glowing performance reviews and had no records of disciplinary actions against him, according to his lawyer. 

His lawyer believes Dr. Phillips did not violate any policies.

“People were shocked to see him fired in that manner. He’s received a number of messages of support from folks afterward,” Frampton added.

In the lawsuit, Dr. Phillips reported the administrators would not explain why he was fired. 

CBS17 said the Department of Instruction officials released the following statement:

The Department of Public Instruction maintains that it fully complied with all legal requirements. However, as this is a personnel matter, no additional information can be shared at this [time]. 

Dr. Phillips and his lawyers are worried about what this decision could mean for the next generation’s education.

“The biggest issue here is that schools should be in the business of fostering intellectual diversity, not firing people who disagree with the school’s point of view, that school should be a place where students are particularly something like the governor school that’s for the best and brightest college-ready students, they should be learning to think for themselves,” Frampton sated. 

When Dr. Phillips applied to work at the school for the 2022 summer session, he was denied. 

CBS17 said officials at DPI have 30 days to respond to the lawsuit.


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