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In Twist to Collin College Debacle, Two Board Trustees Back Terminated Professors

Collin College has found itself embroiled in many controversies over the past few months.EXPAND
Collin College has found itself embroiled in many controversies over the past few months.
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For months, Collin College has weathered a wave of criticism over its decision to terminate female faculty members who had criticized the school. Now, the fight is heating up again.

Two of the college’s board trustees have called for a vote on whether to reinstate former professors Audra Heaslip and Dr. Suzanne Jones.

The move comes shortly after labor union leaders and progressive political figures jumped into the fray. They rallied in Plano on April 25, calling for several professors to be reinstated and asking voters to back three challengers in Saturday’s May 1 election on the board of trustees.

Heaslip and Jones were officers of a recently formed chapter of the Texas Faculty Association, a non-collective bargaining union. The timing of their firing coincided with the chapter's first public meeting. Outside observers have alleged their firing runs afoul of labor laws and called for a National Labor Relations Board investigation.

Both Heaslip and Jones say they would welcome reinstatement.

The call for a vote on their reinstatement is unusual. Typically, the board of trustees at Collin College delegates all personnel matters to the president of the college, Dr. Neil Matkin.

For months, Matkin has prompted harsh criticism for a variety of reasons: bungling the response to COVID-19 and downplaying its impact, dealing harshly with faculty who have challenged him and making comments perceived to be racially insensitive.

On April 27, Stacey Donald, who has served on the board since 2017, delivered a statement calling for a vote to reinstate Heaslip and Jones at the college board of trustees meeting.

Her statement came after an hour of intensely critical public comments, several of which were aimed squarely at Matkin. She was supported by Stacy Anne Arias, a former Collin College student and multi-term board member.

Donald was careful with her words, beginning with comments of praise directed toward her fellow board members. “I think that many of my fellow board members love the college and do their best to defend it,” she said.

Nevertheless, Donald spoke critically about the way the board has responded to the fallout of Matkin's nonrenewal of Heaslip and Jones’ contracts. “We’re not acting consistently with our core values of dignity, respect, and integrity right now,” she said.

Donald called for a voted-on agenda item to be added to the May board meeting regarding the reinstatement of Heaslip and Jones, and praised the ousted professors.

“Between the two professors, we have the assets of combined 30 years excellence and experience, and the college is better served by retaining these two exemplary faculty members who have successfully balanced their love of the college with their strength of character,” Donald said.

Only Heaslip and Jones were listed in the statement. Left out were Dr. Barbara Hanson and Dr. Lora Burnnett, who have also accused the college of unfairly ending their employment for different reasons. After an unsuccessful grievance process, Burnett recently appealed to be reinstated. Her appeal was denied on the day of the board meeting.

Donald says that she grouped Heaslip and Jones together due to similarities in their track records and the reasons for their dismissals.

“If you try and put all four together, it becomes just much more difficult to talk about,” she said.. “They’re not all in the same situation. It's much easier to glue them together because they were let go for pretty much identical reasons at identical times, and have pretty much identical track records.”

Stacy Anne Arias, who has sided with Donald regarding Jones and Heaslips reinstatement, says that each case is being considered separately. She believes there is clearer rationale to support reinstating Jones and Heaslip.

Whether the agenda item will be added to the upcoming May board meeting is unclear. Board policy requires an item raised by two trustees to be added to the board agenda, but it does not specify when. Donald says she opted to publicly call for a voted-on agenda item to put pressure on the board to consider it in a timely fashion.

The Collin College board has kept largely quiet about these personnel issues, citing privacy policies. The policy, however, does not apply to personnel who specifically waive their right to privacy. Both Heaslip and Jones did this via email in early March.

Donald and Arias also called for the creation of a chief diversity and inclusion officer. “Racism, racist jokes, conversations in poor taste and general environments of inequality cannot be tolerated, and it seems that we need an executive office trained in these matters on staff,” Donald said in her statement to the board.

This request is not new. “We've actually been asking for it for a long time,” Donald says. “But partially in light of the discrimination grievance case that's pending on one of our campuses right now, it seems like there’s no real reason not to have one.”

The discrimination grievance case Donald alluded to is that of Linda Wee, the workforce and professional development director who has lodged a series of complaints going back to April 2020, as reported by the Allen American.

“I'm so excited to hear that someone is finally taking me seriously and listening and hearing me,” Wee said. “I've been asking for this for a long time myself. It should have been in place years ago. It could have even prevented me from going through the grievance process.”

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