Collin College, a community college in McKinney, Texas is being sued by a former professor for violating her free speech and assembly rights.
In a lawsuit filed on September 22nd in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas Sherman Division, Suzanne Jones alleges that Collin College administrators pushed her out for criticizing the school’s COVID-19 response, and in retaliation for two previous incidents in 2017 and 2020.
In 2017, Jones signed a letter along with “Collin College” that supported removing a confederate monument in Dallas. Shortly afterwards, the school’s administration asked her to remove the school’s name from the letter.
The following year, Jones signed a three-year contract with Collin College that was set to expire in May 2021.
Last spring, when the pandemic forced the campus to close, Jones was a member of a faculty council tasked with creating a proposal about how the school would move forward in the midst of the ongoing pandemic. At the same time, Jones joined a new Collin College school’s chapter of the Texas Faculty Association (TFA.) The TFA is a nonprofit that protects the rights of higher education faculty.
In July 2020, the faculty council presented its pandemic proposal, based, in part, around faculty member’s safety concerns around returning to in-person classes, to the Collin College administration. The school administration rejected most of the faculty council’s suggestions, and instead created its own COVID-19 response. According to the suit, Neil Matkin, the district president of Collin, said, without naming names, that he found it “ironic that some of the chief proponents of closing our campuses and going fully online failed to speak to the faculty they were charged to represent.” Afterwards, Jones lamented the school’s COVID plan on her personal Facebook page.
In September 2020, the TFA listed Jones’ personal contact information on its website, along with the fact that she was an education professor at Collin. A few days later, the dean of the school contacted her and asked her to remove any mention of Collin College as well as her contact info from the TFA site. When asked why she needed to do that, the dean told her he didn’t want to be associated with any “union,” the complaint alleges.
On January 28, 2021, Jones was informed by Mary Barnes-Tilley, a provost for Collin College, that the school wouldn’t be renewing her contract. “During this meeting, Barnes-Tilley provided Jones two reasons for her nonrenewal: (1) Jones had challenged Collin College’s reopening plans; and (2) on two occasions, the 2017 Incident and 2020 Incident, Collin College asked Jones to remove references to Collin College in publicly accessible websites,” the complaint reads.
“Jones’ exercise of her right to freedom of expression and association caused Defendants Matkin and Jenkins [the school’s vice president] to non-renew Jones’ teaching contract,” the complaint states. Furthermore, “Defendants Matkin and Jenkins’ decision to non-renew Jones’ teaching contract constitutes retaliatory government action meant to inhibit Jones’ free speech and assembly.”
According to the Dallas Observer, multiple faculty members have accused Collin College of firing them in violation of their constitutional rights, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) ranked the school as one of the top 10 worst colleges for free speech.
Jones is seeking to be reinstated at the school and for all of her benefits to be restored.