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Former Collin College professor suing school over dismissal following COVID-19 criticism

Suzanne Jones’ employment with the school ended in May.

A Collin College professor who alleges she was pushed out of her job for challenging the school’s COVID-19 response is now suing the school.

Suzanne Jones was told in January that her contract with the school would not be renewed at the end of the semester. She and fellow professor Audra Heaslip both had previously questioned publicly how school officials were handling the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, Jones has filed a federal lawsuit against Collin College, President Neil Matkin and Toni Jenkins, the former senior vice president of campus operations, claiming she was retaliated against for speaking out on pandemic concerns.

Jones is seeking reinstatement at the college and for all promotions and other benefits to be restored to her, according to the lawsuit.

Collin College spokeswoman Marisela Cadena-Smith said the school follows board approved policies and procedures regarding faculty contracts and its non-renewal processes.

It’s regrettable that a former faculty member has filed a lawsuit, but the college looks forward to defending its action in court, Cadena-Smith added.

“Out of respect for our former employee and due to pending litigation, we will make no further public statement regarding this matter,” she said.

In 2017, Jones signed her name along with “Collin College” on a published letter in support of removing a confederate monument in Dallas. Shortly after, Jones was asked by school administration to remove the college name from the letter, according to the lawsuit.

The next year Jones signed a three-year contract with Collin College that was set to expire on May 31, 2021.

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed down the college in the spring of last year, Jones was a member of the Collin College Faculty Council. The council was tasked with issuing a proposed plan on how the school would move forward amidst the pandemic.

After the council outlined its proposed plan to leadership, the college issued its own COVID-19 plan. Most of the council’s proposals were not included, the lawsuit alleges.

Jones was also a part of Collin College’s chapter of the Texas Faculty Association, which launched last summer. Jones said members banded together to stand for academic freedom and safe working conditions, though the group is not empowered to collectively bargain.

Later that fall, Jones was contacted by the college to remove her school credentials from the state association’s website, citing that it did not want to be associated with a union.

At the end of the year, Jones and TFA members were gearing up for a panel about free speech and academic freedom at Collin College’s Faculty Development Conference in January 2021.

In the midst of preparation in December, TFA members were notified by the school that the panel had been pulled, according to the lawsuit.

A month later in January 2021, Jones got the news that her contract would not be renewed. School officials cited the 2017 and 2020 incidents, along with Jones’ challenging of the school’s COVID-19 response as why her contract would not be renewed, according to the lawsuit.

Jones and her attorney declined to comment on the lawsuit as of Thursday.

Collin College made headlines again this year with another faculty member being dismissed. They also claimed it was over COVID-19 criticism and free speech concerns.

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

Brayden Garcia, Staff writer. Brayden is an intern for the Education Lab. He previously was a freelance reporter covering Arlington. He graduated in May 2020 from the University of Texas at Arlington with a bachelors degree in journalism. He also worked at UTA's student run newspaper, The Shorthorn.

brayden.garcia@dallasnews.com bjgarcia27
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