Collin College on Thursday revoked the three-year contract extension granted to a longtime professor of education, citing her lack of support for the college’s mission.
Her transgressions? In a private meeting, the provost named two, the professor said: criticizing the college’s COVID-reopening plan and allowing Collin’s name to appear on the Texas Faculty Association website.
Suzanne Stateler Jones, the professor, serves as the statewide TFA’s secretary and treasurer. She’s also the secretary for Collin’s new TFA chapter, which functions somewhat like a union but is not recognized, per Texas state law prohibiting collective bargaining among public employees. But Jones says she was never responsible for the statewide website, and that the entire page in question was removed after her dean told her to scrub Collin from the site this fall.
Jones said the new provost, Mary Barnes-Tilley, also accused her of ignoring a previous request from her dean to remove Collin’s name from the TSA site back in 2017. Jones doesn’t recall any such request. But she wasn’t able to respond, as she was told not to speak or ask questions, she said. The only other person in the meeting room was a human resources staff member.
As for criticizing Collin’s COVID-19 response, Jones said she’s only spoken out once, by signing a June Faculty Council resolution asking the college to move as many fall courses online as possible and defer to faculty expertise on instructional methods. Jones said Barnes-Tilley accused her of criticizing the college outside established channels. But Jones said the council is an established shared governance channel, and one-third of that body signed the resolution.
In any case, Jones said, it’s unheard-of for faculty members granted contract extensions with full-throated endorsements from their supervisors to see those contracts revoked. Her bosses signed off on the contract over the summer, and while Collin’s governing board still had to vote on her contract, these motions are virtually always ceremonial, she said.
Marisela Cadena-Smith, a Collin spokesperson, said via email that the college “did not fire” Jones, “despite any misrepresentation you may have received.” She declined further comment.
It’s hard for Jones to see the effective termination as any other than retaliation for her involvement in the TFA and critiquing Collin’s COVID-19 response.
Jones’s current contract expires in the spring. She’s planning to file a grievance with the college, speak with the TFA’s lawyer and hire her own labor lawyer to try to get her job back.
“I love it here,” she said. “I grew up in Plano and went to Collin College in the summers of my college years — yes, I love it. I love Collin, I love teaching. I love my students and my colleagues’ expertise and dedication. I literally have four presentations to give at the college next week … I want to continue doing this. I love what I do.”
Just last year, Collin granted Jones an engaged faculty scholarship to award to a student.
Faculty members at Collin do not have tenure, but longer-serving professors with strong track records generally get multiyear contracts. Jones has taught at Collin full-time since 2012 and even longer than that as an adjunct. The American Association of University Professors maintains that faculty members who have served this long should be granted the same due process protections afforded to tenured faculty members.
It’s hard to separate Jones’s effective termination from other faculty-administrative tensions and free speech flaps at Collin this academic year. In October, Collin formally reproved Lora Burnett, professor of history, for tweeting criticism of then-Vice President Mike Pence during the vice presidential debate. In November, faculty members sharply criticized H. Neil Matkin, Collin’s president, for announcing the death of faculty member Iris Meda, who was fatally exposed to COVID-19 while teaching nursing, in the 22nd paragraph of a memo entitled “College Update & Happy Thanksgiving!” The original communication didn’t mention Meda by name.
Last month, Collin canceled a previously approved panel on faculty burnout, which was to take place during an upcoming faculty development meeting. The burnout panelists were other members of the college’s TFA chapter. Academic freedom expert Hank Reichman, professor emeritus of history at California State University, East Bay, said at the time that since “one faculty member, who has taught at the school for more than 15 years, told me that ‘morale has never been lower,’ both keynote and session topics would seem quite timely. ‘We’re all still doing the job,’ that faculty member said, ‘but for many our hearts are no longer in it. That is damaging to our students in the long run, and students should come first.’”
Despite the challenges to the fledgling TFA chapter, the group was scheduled to hold its first recruitment meeting Thursday evening.
Kat Balch, chair of the Faculty Council and a professor of English, did not respond to a request for comment.