Collin College has pushed out a third professor for questionable reasons — the latest in a string of firings that faculty members say are evidence of a hostile work environment.
H. Neil Matkin, president of the community-college district in Texas, has garnered a reputation for dealing harshly with members of the faculty who criticize the administration. He also faced a firestorm of outrage after he minimized the Covid-19 death of a professor.
The history professor Lora D. Burnett was perhaps Matkin’s most outspoken critic. She lost her job on Thursday.
On Twitter, Burnett complained that she was apparently being let go because of “mean tweets.” She posted screenshots of a letter from the college’s human-resources department, which informed her that her employment contract expires on May 14 and would not be renewed.
In the letter, the college scolded Burnett for behavior including “insubordination, making private personnel issues public that impair the college’s operations, and personal criticisms of co-workers, supervisors, and/or those who merely disagree with you.”
But the college, located in a conservative Dallas suburb, was faulted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free-speech advocacy group, for how it had treated Burnett — particularly when it failed to stick up for its professor following a controversial statement she made on social media.
In a tweet in October, Burnett ridiculed the then vice president Mike Pence’s debate performance, and urged the moderator “to talk over Mike Pence until he shuts his little demon mouth up.”
The tweet drew conservative anger and finger-pointing to the college, but professors across the country say controversial things all the time. And the typical response from public colleges and universities like Collin is to emphasize their employees’ First Amendment right of free speech.
Matkin took a different route, and criticized Burnett in a collegewide email. Although he didn’t identify Burnett by name, he faulted an unnamed faculty member for attacking Mike Pence through “hateful, vile, and ill-considered Twitter posts.” Burnett has also criticized Collin in pieces written for The Chronicle Review.
Apparently playing a major role in this was Texas state Rep. Jeff Leach, who vigorously defends the free speech rights of people wearing “Camp Auschwitz” t-shirts, but does not think that mild criticisms of Republican public officials are protected by the First Amendment.
Incidentally, if you’re wondering why faculty members were critical of Matkin’s COVID response, it’s because the guy is an out-and-out troofer:
“If one were to watch the news (pick your channel),” Matkin wrote, “you would hear that Texas has become a hotbed for the spread of the virus.” (That day, Texas reported 5,890 new cases, more than five times what was reported at the beginning of the month.) Later in the email, Matkin said it’s important to keep in mind that “every news outlet is funded by advertising dollars,” which is relevant when “we assess the information we receive through the media.”
“Friends,” he finally implored, “can we take a step back and re-evaluate what we actually know today? From my vantage point, we must do our own thinking. We are, after all, in the thinking business, are we not?”
In August, Matkin told the Board of Trustees that the effects of the pandemic “have been blown utterly out of proportion across our nation and reported with unfortunate sensationalism and few facts.”
Good luck to any of these faculty members who bring suits.