On Thursday, the second of four lawsuits filed against Collin College over the past year has been settled. The school reached a settlement with Suzanne Jones, a professor of 20 years in the school who claimed her contract wasn’t renewed in January 2021 because she made use of her First Amendment rights.
Update 9/9/22 – 8:00 a.m. An earlier version of this article said there were three lawsuits filed against Collin College instead of four. It since has been updated. We regret the error.
As Local Profile previously reported, according to college officials, the criteria observed for the nonrenewal were related to the professor’s performance as a faculty member and her compliance with established policies. But Jones claims that she was given two reasons for the nonrenewal: challenging Collin College’s COVID-19 reopening plans and referencing Collin College on publicly accessible websites.
To give some context, at one point in the pandemic, Collin College was the only public college in the state still demanding that everyone attend classes in person, despite refusing to reveal whether there were any COVID-19 cases on any of its five campuses.
In November 2020, Iris Meda, a 70-year-old nursing teacher passed away after contracting the coronavirus. This renewed teachers’ outrage regarding the college’s decision to return to in-person classes that fall and many professors expressed their concerns about the safety of staff and students. One of them was Suzanne Jones, who, according to court documents, urged her followers in a social media post to consider contacting the college president Dr. Neil Matkin to ask for a solution.
Now, more than a year since Jones filed a lawsuit against the school, she shared a joint statement that covers the terms of the settlement. The agreement states that Jones will teach exclusively at the school’s virtual campus, iCollin, through February 2025.
A statement released by FIRE, the nonprofit representing Jones and that had previously represented Lora Burnett against Collin College, said that the college agreed to pay a two-year teaching contract for $230,000 plus attorneys’ fees.
“This is a huge victory — not only for Suzanne but for every single professor around the country who hesitates to speak up because an administrator wants to silence them,” said FIRE attorney Greg H. Greubel in the statement. “Censorship is un-American. FIRE is proud to defend people of all political views who are punished simply for speaking their minds. And we're not stopping now.”
A third open lawsuit was filed by Michael Pillips, also represented by FIRE, alleging a violation of his constitutional rights by firing him for criticizing the school’s COVID-19 policies.
“You can’t fire professors simply for exercising their First Amendment rights,” said FIRE attorney Josh Bleisch. “Lawsuits are our last resort when colleges prove unwilling to respect faculty and the First Amendment. But we won’t stop until Matkin ends his regime of silence.”
But freedom of speech is not the only source of conflict for the school, there's yet another lawsuit open against the institution. As previously reported by Local Profile, in July Linda Wee, the former director of continuing education, filed a lawsuit claiming race-based discrimination.
According to the lawsuit, Wee applied for the executive dean of continuing education position and was rejected by her supervisor, Provost Bill King, in favor of Karen Musa, a white British woman with no doctorate, who then became Wee's supervisor. “The only difference between Ms. Wee and Ms. Musa is that Ms. Musa is White of British origin, and Ms. Wee is Asian of Chinese descent, born in Singapore,” the lawsuit adds.
Besides Musa and King, the lawsuit also includes the board of trustees, President Neil Matkin and Chief Human Resources Officer Floyd Nickerson. According to The Texas Tribune, Wee is asking for $250,000 and $1 million in damages.