The fight for free speech continues at Collin College

What awful leadership that place has.

A year ago, Texas history professor Lora Burnett fired off an angry tweet from her private social media account about then-vice president Mike Pence. It landed during the vice presidential debate, prompting news coverage from conservative media, an angry response from at least one Texas lawmaker and a series of disciplinary actions from her employer, the publicly funded Collin College in North Texas.

This week, Burnett, who was eventually terminated from her job at Collin College, a community college in McKinney, filed a federal lawsuit against the college, its president, H. Neil Matkin, and the board of trustees.

In the Tuesday filing, she claims that the school’s decision not to renew her three-year contract was retaliation for those comments, as well as her public criticism of the school’s COVID-19 reopening plan, and violated her First Amendment rights.

In her lawsuit, Burnett argues that Collin College leaders use “a custom or practice of terminating professors who speak out on matters of public concern” and that the school’s practices are unconstitutional.

“Government employees have the right to have their own politics,” Burnett told The Texas Tribune in an interview this week. “I express my views on Twitter on my own time on a personal account and it has nothing to do with my job. I was not speaking for the college. I was not teaching at the time.”

Burnett is the second former professor to file a free speech lawsuit against the college in federal court in the past two months. In September, another former professor, Suzanne Jones, filed a lawsuit claiming the school did not renew her contract because of her comments about the school’s COVID-19 reopening plan and her involvement in a local chapter of the Texas Faculty Association, a statewide group that has no collective bargaining rights like a union.


The two lawsuits are the culmination of more than a year of conflict between Collin College administrators and a total of four professors who have also publicly criticized the school for its COVID-19 response throughout the last school year. Only Burnett and Jones opted to sue.

A third professor, Audra Heaslip, also did not receive a contract renewal last year. She told the Tribune that she made a “difficult personal decision” not to sue the college.

A fourth professor remains employed at the school but received a disciplinary warning from the college in August for criticizing its response to the pandemic on social media, Burnett’s filing states.

Collin College, a community college that serves more than 52,000 students northeast of Dallas, has faced criticism for disciplining the professors for their public comments of the school’s COVID-19 response over the past year.

Burnett and others had criticized Matkin for downplaying the severity of the pandemic and for leadership’s lack of transparency about positive cases on campus. The school did not publicly post the number of COVID cases on campus until after the death of an employee and a student from the virus.

I briefly mentioned the past cases at the end of this post. The Dallas Observer has been following this saga closely, and you should read their related stories for the background. It’s a big reminder that whenever you hear the likes of Ted Cruz or Greg Abbott whine about “cancel culture” or how social media is so mean to conservatives, they never ever refer to or give a damn about people like Lora Burnett or Suzanne Jones or Audra Heaslip. Indeed, it was a wingnut member of the House that initially led the charge against Burnett. This kind of thing is not just happening here, and it’s getting increasingly scary. But hey, someone said something mean about Mitch McConnell once, so it really is a both-sides thing. The DMN has more.

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One Response to The fight for free speech continues at Collin College

  1. David Fagan says:

    8 days and counting……

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