College professor gets justice after being fired

Collin College professor reinstated after being fired for union advocacy, supporting the removal of Confederate monuments

McKINNEY, Texas — Two down, one to go in a trio of lawsuits against the Texas college that just can’t resist firing professors for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Today, administrators at Collin College agreed to a settlement that includes reinstating education professor Suzanne Jones, fired by the institution last year for her protected speech. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression represented Jones in her lawsuit.

“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. “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.”

As part of the settlement, the college agreed to a two-year, $230,000 teaching contract with Jones and to pay $145,000 in attorneys’ fees. 

“I am happy to be back at Collin College and I am thankful to FIRE for helping me,” said Jones, who worked at the college for two decades before she was fired for her protected speech.

Under President H. Neil Matkin, Collin College — the epicenter of censorship in Texas — fired Jones on ??Jan. 28, 2021. The college cited three incidents that led to her firing:

  • In 2017, Jones signed her name and college affiliation on a published open letter supporting the removal of Confederate monuments in Dallas.
  • In 2020, Jones used the name of Collin College on a website associated with the Texas Faculty Association, a statewide faculty union Jones helped organize at Collin College. 
  • Jones, who sat on the Collin College Faculty Council, publicly supported the council’s proposed plan regarding campus reopening amidst the pandemic.

Despite calling Jones an “excellent faculty member” with positive reviews and extensive service to the college, Collin College Vice President Toni Jenkins joined Matkin to authorize the non-renewal of Jones’ teaching contract — against the recommendations of her associate dean, dean, and provost.

Public institutions like Collin College are bound by the First Amendment. When public colleges retaliate against professors for exercising their freedom of speech and association, they run headlong into the Bill of Rights. 

In September 2021, Jones sued Collin College and the administrators responsible for her termination. FIRE began representing Jones on Feb. 14, 2022. In August, the court denied a motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity and ruled that Collin College administrators could be held personally and financially responsible for their actions. The court called the defendants’ arguments “dead on arrival” and said their actions were “clearly unconstitutional.” 

Collin College plaintiff Suzanne Jones. Credit: JX Studio

FIRE filed two other lawsuits against Collin College.

  • In January, history professor Lora Burnett prevailed in her own First Amendment lawsuit against the school after she was fired for criticizing public officials and the Collin College administration. Under the court judgment, Collin College agreed to pay $70,000 in damages plus attorneys’ fees. 
  • Less than two months later, history professor Michael Phillips sued the college, Matkin, and other university officials for violating his constitutional rights by firing him for talking about history and criticizing the college’s COVID-19 policies. In September, the court denied the College’s motion to dismiss, allowing Phillips to proceed with his claim alleging the College imposed an unconstitutional prior restraint on his speech.

“You can’t fire professors simply for exercising their First Amendment rights,” said FIRE attorney Josh Bleisch. “How much more taxpayer money is President Matkin going to throw away before he gets the message? 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.”