Once again, Collin College has agreed to a large payout in response to a lawsuit alleging the Texas college unfairly fired a professor in violation of the First Amendment.
This time, however, the dismissed professor got his job back — with a hefty salary increase.
Education professor Suzanne Jones will return to the community college near Dallas in January on a two-year contract. His new annual salary: $115,000. If Jones leaves the job before the two years are up, he will still receive the entire $230,000 under the employment contract, according to Greg Harold Greubel, the lawyer in the case.
“This is as close to a total victory as a settlement,” said Greubel, an attorney with the Foundation for Personal Rights and Expressions, which advocates for free speech for faculty across the country.
FIRE has also represented two other faculty members fired at Collin, which the free-speech group calls the epicenter of censorship in Texas.
Collin College became a battleground for free speech following the arrival of controversial president H. Neil Matkin in 2015. Chronicle profiled Matkin and his profound impact on the college last year.
Time and time again, faculty members have left abruptly during the Matkin era, often under mysterious circumstances. Jones is the first to return triumphantly.
“I’m excited to be back at Collin College,” Jones tweeted Thursday. “And I’m grateful @TheFIREorg for helping me.”
Before graduating last year, Jones had been at Collin for nearly two decades, and he has had stellar performance reviews over the years.
But he had also spoken out on controversial public issues. Jones wrote a Facebook post criticizing the college’s response to Covid-19 and signed an open letter calling for the removal of Confederate monuments in Dallas.
Jones also served as secretary of the campus chapter of the Texas Faculty Association, which is similar to an employee union under Texas labor law but lacks collective bargaining power.
Jones also held the same title in the larger, in-state TFA organization, and the college cited his job performance (and the fact that he was listed as a contact at Collin College) in the firing.
Collin College administration released a joint statement with Jones’ attorneys in response to the settlement announcement.
“Collin College is committed to its vision of creating a brighter future for its students and communities,” it said. “Dr. Jones has always thought highly of the college and knows it does amazing work in the county. He is very excited to return and be a part of its culture of excellence.
“Collin College recognizes that Dr. Jones is an excellent teacher and has demonstrated good results during his tenure at the college through high evaluations and is respected by his students and many colleagues,” the statement continued. “Dr. Jones is excited to return to his 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 to settle her First Amendment lawsuit.
As part of both Burnett’s and Jones’ settlements, Collin College also agreed to pay the professors’ legal fees.
A third former Collin professor, Michael Phillips, still has a First Amendment lawsuit pending against the college.
On Thursday, Burnett spoke Chronicle that Jones was “vindicated” by getting his old job back. But Burnett still expressed concern about how much Collin College is spending on attorneys’ fees related to appeals challenging the faculty firings.
“The simple solution to this problem, to make sure this kind of waste doesn’t happen again,” he said, “would be for the college to simply respect the First Amendment rights of its professors … just not to break the law. And I don’t know if the college has learned its lesson yet .