Courts

Free Speech Lawsuit Ends With Settlement That Includes Collin College Reinstating Sacked Professor

Collin College has been at the center of a years-long free speech battle.
Collin College has been at the center of a years-long free speech battle. illustration by Sarah Schumacher
On Thursday, Collin College reached a settlement with Suzanne Jones, a professor who filed a federal lawsuit against the school alleging she’d been terminated for exercising her free speech rights.

Jones, an education professor, was let go in January 2021 in an incident that became part of what critics say was a broader pattern of free speech violations at Collin College.

In the lawsuit, Jones alleged the school had terminated her for signing a public letter calling for the removal of Confederate monuments in Dallas, opposing the college’s reopening plan during the COVID-19 pandemic and using the institution’s name on a website linked to the Texas Faculty Association union.

Jones filed suit against Collin College and its administrators, including President Neil Matkin, in September 2021. The following February, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, began representing her in the lawsuit.

The settlement includes an agreement that Jones will “teach exclusively” at iCollin, the school’s virtual campus, through February 2025.

In a statement Thursday, FIRE said Collin College, which it described as the “epicenter of censorship in Texas,” had agreed to pay $230,000 for a two-year teaching contract and $145,000 in 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,” FIRE attorney Greg H. Greubel said 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,” Greubel added. “And we're not stopping now.”
Jones shared a joint statement made by her and Collin College on Twitter. “Dr. Jones has always thought highly of the College and knows it does amazing work in the county,” the statement reads. “She is very happy to return and be part of its culture of excellence.”

Contacted by the Observer, Collin College declined to provide additional comment.

In part, the statement adds, “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.”

"Censorship is un-American." – FIRE

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The settlement with Jones is the second in an ongoing free speech saga. In January, Collin College agreed to pay $70,000 to Lora Burnett, a history professor who said she’d been sacked after criticizing former Vice President Mike Pence in October 2020 and speaking out against the college administration.

FIRE also represented Burnett.

In March, history professor Michael Phillips, author of White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841–2001, filed a lawsuit against Collin College, its president and school officials.

Phillips, who is also represented by FIRE, alleges that the school similarly terminated his contract over his public criticism of the school’s COVID-19 policies and other free speech concerns.

“I never dreamed I would teach at a college where I would be ordered to not share facts, particularly life-saving ones, with my students,” Phillips said in a FIRE release at the time. “We should model for our students how to hear speech and ideas we don’t like, skills necessary for participating in a democracy.”

Phillips' suit is ongoing. 
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Patrick Strickland is the former news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's worked as a senior reporter at Al Jazeera English. His reporting has appeared in the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.

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