Sunday, November 27, 2022

Collin College Professor Gets 6-Figure Salary and Reinstatement After Free-Speech Lawsuit

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Once again, Collin College has agreed to a large settlement payout in response to a lawsuit alleging that the Texas college fired a professor unjustly, in violation of the First Amendment.

This time, however, the fired professor got her job back — along with a hefty raise.

Suzanne Jones, an education professor, will return to the community college, located just outside of Dallas, in January, under a two-year contract. Her new annual salary: $115,000. If Jones quits before her two years are up, she will still receive the full $230,000 due under the employment contract, according to her lawyer in the case, Greg Harold Greubel.

“It’s as close to complete victory as you get in a settlement agreement,” said Greubel, a lawyer with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which advocates for faculty free-speech rights across the country.

FIRE has also represented two other faculty members fired by Collin, which the free-speech group calls the “epicenter” of censorship in Texas.

Collin College became a free-speech battleground after the arrival of its controversial president, H. Neil Matkin, in 2015. The Chronicle profiled Matkin, and his profound impact on the college, last year.

Over and over again, faculty members have departed abruptly during the Matkin era, often under mysterious circumstances. Jones will be the first to return in triumph.

“I am happy to be back at Collin College,” Jones tweeted on Thursday. “And I am thankful to @TheFIREorg for helping me.”

A ‘Simple Solution’

Before being terminated last year, Jones had been at Collin for nearly two decades, with many years of stellar job-performance evaluations.

But she had also spoken out on controversial public issues. Jones wrote a Facebook post criticizing the college’s response to Covid-19, and she signed an open letter calling for the removal of Confederate memorials in Dallas.

Jones was also a secretary for the campus chapter of the Texas Faculty Association, which is similar to an employee union under Texas labor law, but lacks the power of collective bargaining.

Jones held the same title for the larger statewide TFA organization, and the college cited her labor activities (and the fact she was listed as the Collin College contact) in her dismissal.

The Collin College administration, in response to the settlement announcement, released a joint statement with Jones’s lawyers.

“Collin College is committed to its vision of creating a brighter future for its students and communities,” it states. “Dr. Jones has always thought highly of the college and knows it does amazing work in the county. She is very happy to return and be part of its culture of excellence.”

“Collin College recognizes that Dr. Jones is a great teacher and during her time at the college demonstrated good performance through high evaluations and was respected by her students and many of her colleagues,” the statement continues. “Dr. Jones is excited about her return to the classroom and is grateful to the administration for the opportunity to teach bright minds at the college.”

Earlier this year, in January, the college agreed to pay another fired professor, Lora D. Burnett, $70,000 in order to bring her First Amendment lawsuit to an end.

As part of both Burnett’s and Jones’s settlements, Collin College also agreed to pay the professors’ legal fees.

A third former Collin professor, Michael Phillips, still has a pending First Amendment lawsuit against the college.

On Thursday, Burnett told The Chronicle that Jones had been “vindicated” by getting her old job back. But Burnett still expressed concern about how much Collin College is spending on lawyers’ fees related to complaints challenging faculty firings.

“The simple solution to this problem, to make sure that this kind of wastefulness doesn’t happen again,” she said, “would be for the college to simply respect the First Amendment rights of its professors … to simply not break the law. And I wonder if the college has learned a lesson yet.”





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