State Auditor demands money from professor after ‘Scholar Strike’

Published 12:21 pm Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Mississippi Auditor’s Office demands nearly $2,000 from a University of Mississippi professor for participating in a two-day “work stoppage” on Sept. 8 and Sept. 9.

In a new release Tuesday, Mississippi Auditor Shad White said the professor’s actions violated the Mississippi Constitution which makes such work stoppages and strikes illegal.

“Today my office issued a demand for $1,912.42 ($946.74 principal and $965.68 interest and investigative costs) to Prof. James Thomas for his ‘work stoppage’ (his words) on September 8th and 9th.,” White wrote. “‘Concerted work stoppages’ and strikes are illegal under Mississippi’s no-strike law, and paying someone for not working violates Sections 66 and 96 of the state constitution. It’s simple—the taxpayers of Mississippi cannot pay someone when they did not provide the good or service they were hired to provide.”

White said Thomas announced his intentions on social media and in writing to his students. The professor suggested that he was participating in a nationwide Scholar Strike to promote racial justice following the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wis., and other related events.

Communicating with his students, Thomas wrote, “‘I have strong feelings about this – if you have tenure, your #ScholarStrike activity needs to be a work stoppage. Tell your students you’re not working.’”

White said during his two-day work-stoppage, Thomas ignored emails from his students.

“My agents and I personally read each of those emails,” White wrote. “One student was worried because they were having trouble responding to a writing prompt. Another could not access a lesson plan online. One student could not submit an assignment on time because of a technology problem and worried about getting full credit. Still another was worried about an assignment and asked if Prof. Thomas would be responding while on Scholar Strike. There are others.”

White said Thomas had three classes to teach on those two days, and he did not teach them.

“In short, he refused to perform his job duties, and his tuition-paying students suffered as a result. The taxpayers and donors to the university suffered, too,” White said.

White said that Thomas has tried to explain away his actions.

“When Prof. Thomas realized he was going to be called on the carpet for not performing these duties, he attempted to explain by saying, ‘100 percent of my job requires time spent thinking . . . . If I’m thinking I’m working,'” White said. “Thinking isn’t going to cut it with me. If an employee of the state auditor’s office came to me and said they would not be responding to my emails, they would not be at work, they would not be performing audits, they would not be available for calls, they would not be available for meetings, and that this was a work stoppage, but they would be thinking over the next two days, I would not pay them.”

White said Thomas’s attorney has never made an argument that addresses the basic principle in the Mississippi constitution that says people cannot be paid if they did not work.

“The Office of the State Auditor takes Prof. Thomas at his word that he engaged in a work stoppage,” White said. “If Prof. Thomas wants to make the argument that he lied and didn’t actually engage in a work stoppage, then he and his lawyer are free to try to spin that yarn now.”

White said Thomas’s contract is with the Institutions of Higher Learning and that IHL will ultimately have to decide if they will take Thomas to court to hear the matter of his termination.

If Thomas fails to pay the demand within 30 days, the case will be referred to the Attorney General’s Office. In September, Texas A&M University suspended Professor Wendy Lee Moore for two days without pay for her participation in the Scholar Strike.