‘That Man Makes Me Crazy’: Neil Matkin's Reign at Collin College Draws Scrutiny

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tags: Texas, higher education, academic freedom, colleges and universities

Early in his tenure as Collin College’s president, H. Neil Matkin had an unusual task for his top leadership team.

Matkin gave everyone a book to read — a book he still distributes to college staff today.

Titled The Go-Getter, the 1921 fictional tale by Peter B. Kyne is well known in business circles. It is the story of a disabled veteran, Bill Peck, who’s willing to do whatever it takes to get a job.

A San Francisco lumber company hires Peck and issues a challenge: Bring the boss an elusive blue vase. Others received the same assignment, and usually failed. One prior employee tried to steal the vase from a store.

Peck, too, thinks about acting illegally but instead retrieves the vase through persistence and cunning, and also by providing his most valuable possession, a diamond ring, as collateral.

The boss is pleased, and Peck gets a promotion.

As president, Matkin saw the century-old book as a conversation-starter, one that demonstrated the values of resilience and drive in achieving a goal. But privately, the book concerned at least one former administrator, who spoke to The Chronicle on the condition of anonymity. Did their new president expect unquestioning obedience, no matter the cost?

In the years since, controversial employee departures have become common. Most recently, the college fired three celebrated professors. Administrators faulted one for being too outspoken on social media, while the two others were let go after criticizing the college’s Covid-19 reopening strategy.

Ex-employees who spoke to The Chronicle on the condition of anonymity say they were coerced into signing legal nondisclosure agreements on their way out the door, in exchange for severance pay or a small financial settlement.

The Chronicle conducted dozens of interviews focused on Matkin’s leadership, which revealed the extent to which the president has trampled on the norms and expectations of the job, from berating a professor in a college-wide email to reportedly making offensive jokes in public settings. Perhaps most alarmingly, Matkin played down the dangers of Covid-19, reopening the college with most classes at least partially in-person at a time when neighboring institutions, such as Dallas College, taught mostly online.

“The effects of this pandemic have been blown utterly out of proportion,” Matkin wrote in an August 15, 2020, email to staff, in which he also argued that Covid-19 death numbers were “clearly inflated.”

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education

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