SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: January 28, 2021

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Collin College

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On January 28, Collin College’s administration declined to renew the contract of Professor Suzanne Jones in apparent retaliation for her expression critical of the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other nonviolent, responsible expression.

Jones, who taught at the college for twenty years, serves as the statewide secretary and treasurer to the Texas Faculty Association (TFA); she is also the secretary of Collin College’s TFA chapter. In June 2020, Jones helped author a Faculty Council resolution urging the college to keep most courses online in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On January 28, the college’s provost, Mary Barnes-Tilley, called Jones into a meeting with a member of the human resources department. According to a report by Inside Higher Ed (IHE), Barnes-Tilley told Jones that she was not permitted to speak or ask questions during the meeting. Tilley reportedly informed Jones her that the college would not renew her contract and that her employment at Collin College would terminate at the end of the semester. Tilley accused her of “criticizing the college outside established channels,” by signing the Faculty Council resolution on COVID-19, and for allegedly mentioning the college’s name without permission in two instances: the first, in connection with her signature to 2017 petition calling for the removal of Confederate memorials, and the second, on TFA’s website. (Jones claims that she had previously removed the college’s name from TSA’s website upon request from the college’s dean.) According to Jones, senior faculty had signed off on a three-year contract extension for Jones in 2020.

Later in the day, another Collin College professor, Audra Heaslip, was told that her contract would not be renewed due to her public statements on the college’s handling of COVID-19.

Jones told Inside Higher Ed that she intended to file a grievance with the college and hire a labor lawyer in an attempt to be reinstated at the college. 

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the nonrenewal of a scholar’s contract in apparent retaliation for nonviolent, responsible exercise of academic freedom. University authorities should refrain from retaliating against scholars for responsible expression critical of their institution. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, dismissals aimed at restricting or retaliating against such activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.