School Touts Viewpoint Diversity, Fires Conservative Prof
In the state of North Carolina, some of the most talented rising high-school seniors are invited to spend a summer at the North Carolina Governor’s School. This summer residential program bills itself as a place where students can “listen to the perspectives of others” and “become aware of a wide range of differing viewpoints and thinking.”
Yet despite these promises, the school embraces a racially divisive ideology, often referred to as critical race theory. When Dr. David Phillips, a Governor’s School faculty member, attempted to speak out about the harms of this ideology and the value of ideological diversity, he lost his job.
Who is Dr. David Phillips?
Dr. David Phillips is an English instructor who has been teaching full-time at various colleges and universities in North Carolina since 2008. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Hampden-Sydney College in 2000, and he went on to earn both a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of North Carolina.
Since 2013, Dr. Phillips had been spending his summers teaching gifted high school students at the Governor’s School. But in recent years, he noticed that racially divisive ideology had begun to infiltrate the school. Dr. Phillips was especially concerned that the curriculum and teaching embraced the idea that everyone ought to be viewed through the lens of characteristics like race, sex, gender identity, and religion.
Phillips v. North Carolina Department of Public Instruction
Dr. Phillips was not the only one who noticed the Governor’s School was increasingly adopting a racially divisive ideology. Beginning in 2015, he began to receive complaints from students that school officials were discriminating against them based on their so-called “privileged” characteristics, such as being white or Christian, and based on their conservative viewpoints.
Some students approached Dr. Phillips and told him about the discrimination they had experienced in other classes. Conservative students said their views were often shut down immediately by instructors, and they said teachers would allow other students to pile on in criticizing them because of their conservative beliefs.
In addition to hearing these stories, Dr. Phillips experienced some teachers’ hostile attitude toward certain people firsthand. He heard fellow teachers openly dismissing a person’s perspective because the person was “just a cis straight white guy” or “an old white dude.”
This open hostility toward people because of their personal characteristics concerned Dr. Phillips, and he expressed his concerns to school officials on multiple occasions. But they did not take any action to address the problem. Instead, the issue continued to worsen each year.
To offer students a differing perspective, Dr. Phillips began teaching optional seminars that critiqued the idea that all students should be viewed through the lenses of race, gender, religion, or other characteristics and presented the value of intellectual diversity.
Before the 2021 session of the Governor’s School even began, Dr. Phillips experienced hostility from his colleagues. During an orientation for faculty, Dr. Phillips gave an overview of his curriculum for the upcoming session. After he explained which books he would be teaching, a teaching assistant remarked, “a lot of dudes,” referring to the authors of the books.
Dr. Phillips tried to avoid conflict by simply replying “yes,” but an ensuing awkward silence made it clear that he was expected to explain himself. He said that he believed texts for his class should be chosen based on the issues and topics he wanted students to analyze, not the physical characteristics of the authors. He also noted that the most advanced texts on his list were written by women.
Following the orientation, multiple colleagues privately expressed sympathy to Dr. Phillips for the open hostility he experienced from a colleague. Sadly, the harassment would only worsen.
During the 2021 Governor’s School session, Dr. Phillips began experiencing increased hostility from students and staff who chose to attend his seminars. Still, after every lecture, he would stay afterward to calmly answer any questions.
After Dr. Phillips had given his third optional seminar of 2021, one teacher took the question-and-answer period as an opportunity to attack Dr. Phillips. He claimed Dr. Phillips had “already told us you don’t believe in diversity,” referencing the “a lot of dudes” interaction during orientation.
This statement was categorically false, especially since Dr. Phillips’ lecture had been about the value of diversity, particularly in viewpoints. It was also extremely inappropriate for a teacher to use a question-and-answer period—meant primarily for students—to argue about an interaction at a faculty meeting. Even amid the hostility, Dr. Phillips stayed and calmly responded to every comment and question from students and staff members.
Following this optional seminar, one or more staff members complained to school officials about the content. The officials proceeded to fire Dr. Phillips without providing a reason.
Dr. Phillips had never violated any Governor’s School policy, and he had never been disciplined or censured for allegedly breaking any policies during his tenure at the school. When Dr. Phillips applied to return for the 2022 Governor’s School session, he was denied.
In December 2022, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of Dr. Phillips. The case is now before a North Carolina state court.
What’s at stake?
Schools should be places where robust debate is encouraged, not echo chambers that affirm only particular beliefs about current political and social issues. Furthermore, teachers have a constitutional right to speak about their own beliefs without facing punishment from school officials.
If the government has the power to punish someone for speaking freely, it can censor any beliefs it doesn’t like, which would effectively eliminate the freedom of speech. Dr. Phillips is fighting to protect this freedom both on school campuses and throughout the public square.
- June 2021: Dr. David Phillips gave a series of optional seminars offering students a differing perspective from the prevailing ideology at the North Carolina Governor’s School. After one or more staff members complained, the school fired Dr. Phillips and did not provide an explanation.
- June 2022: The school rejected Dr. Phillips’s application to return for the 2022 session.
- December 2022: ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of Dr. Phillips. The case is currently at a North Carolina state court.
The bottom line
Teachers shouldn’t be fired for fostering intellectual diversity on campus.
ADF team members contributed to the writing and publication of this article.