Collin College Professor Reinstated After Free-Speech Lawsuit

Suzanne Jones, an education professor at Collin College, will return to the North Texas community college in January under a two-year contract and with a new salary. Jones was terminated   last year due to her comments and actions  on political issues, including criticizing Collin College’s response to COVID-19 on Facebook and signing an open letter that called for the removal of Confederate memorials from public places in Dallas. 

Jones filed a lawsuit in September 2021 accusing the community college of violating her First Amendment right to free speech, as well as claiming the college fired her due to her critical comments and her work to start a campus chapter of the Texas Faculty Association, a statewide higher education faculty union. Collin College agreed to pay a large settlement in response to Jones’ lawsuit, under which the college will pay Jones $230,000 as part of a two-year contract and compensate her for $145,000 in legal fees. Jones’ new salary is a higher sum than her prior salary, which was around $66,000. Jones is restricted to online classes under the contract and must resign once it is up in 2025. 

Jones had worked for Collin College for two decades before her contract was not renewed.  Lawyers for the college requested that the judge dismiss Jones’ lawsuit, claiming the college was protected by “qualified immunity,” which protects government officials from civil suits unless an individual’s constitutional rights were clearly and egregiously violated. The judge denied that request, which opened the college up to liability

Dr. John Burghduff, president of the AFT local union at Houston-area Lone Star College, responded to Jones’ termination by noting the need for more higher ed faculty and staff to unionize.

“Faculty at community colleges have the same mandate as professors at universities to ask hard questions, to promote critical thinking, and to advocate for the well-being of the students they serve,” Burghduff said. “They must have the same protections of academic freedom and freedom of speech that are expected for all higher education faculty. This story illustrates why community college employees should organize so that they can stand together as a union rather than try to fight off heavy handed administrators on their own.”

Jones is not the only professor from Collin College who has been penalized for exercising their First Amendment rights. Former history professors Lora Burnett and Michael Phillips sued Collin College, both claiming the school penalized them for their public statements on political issues. 
Following the release of Jones’ settlement, Burnett told the Chronicle of Higher Education, “The simple solution to this problem to make sure that this kind of wastefulness doesn’t happen again would be for [Collin College] to simply respect the First Amendment rights of its professors … to simply not break the law. And I wonder if [Collin College] has learned a lesson yet.”