Tenured University of Mississippi Professor, named among Top Ten America Hating Professors, suing State Auditor.
In December 2020, the Mississippi State Auditor’s office issued a demand for $1,912.42 to Ole Miss professor James Thomas for his work stoppage on September 8th and 9th as part of the “#ScholarStrike” to call attention to racism and injustice in policing amidst the protests and riots last summer.
“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,” Thomas posted on social media.
I’m participating in #ScholarStrike. I've emailed my classes to let them know I won't be available the next two days. I've pointed them toward @ScholarStrike resources to understand why so many of us are joining in this national call to action. https://t.co/ginprwpY0U
— James M. Thomas (JT) 🌹 (@Insurgent_Prof) September 8, 2020
Thomas was to have paid that demand within 30 days, per the Auditor’s demand letter dated December 1st. However, the tenured University of Mississippi professor has not made good on that demand.
The matter has since been referred to the Attorney General’s office for potential civil action, and is now on hold.
“The Auditor’s demand letter is presently on hold due to the pending litigation initiated by Professor Thomas,” AG spokesperson Colby Jordan told Y’all Politics last week.
The litigation the AG’s office is referring to is a lawsuit Thomas filed against Auditor Shad White in his individual capacity on December 30th. It was filed by Robert McDuff of the Mississippi Center for Justice, a nonprofit, public interest law firm that bills themselves as being committed to advancing racial and economic justice.
Who is Professor James Thomas?
Thomas is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Ole Miss. His bio on the university website says his research centers on how race and racism are enacted, both historically and in everyday life, using several interpretative methods to reveal how race and racism emerge across socio-political contexts, and how social actors enable and contest race and racism in routine practice.
Thomas goes by the Twitter handle @Insurgent_Prof where he publicly promotes social justice making statements to stir the pot, such as, “I’m going to say ‘critical race theory’ in every class session I teach for the fall semester.”
He first rose to social media fame when in 2018 he tweeted about interrupting U.S. Senators’ meals as a result of the Senate’s hearings on then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, saying, “They don’t deserve your civility.” Then, in 2019, he compared Trump supporting youth to Nazis, tweeting, “MAGA teens are modern day Hitlerjugend. Got a uniform and everything.”
When I said MAGA teens are modern day Hitlerjugend, I meant it.
What we're watching at this rally is the aesthetics of fascism.
— James M. Thomas (JT) 🌹 (@Insurgent_Prof) July 18, 2019
But that did not deter the University and the Institutions of Higher Learning from granting Thomas tenure in a 7-5 vote of the Board of Trustees in May 2019.
Since then, Thomas has continued to tweet controversial statements largely pointed at conservatives. So much so that he was recently named #9 on the Top Ten America Hating Professors list as published by David Horowitz of the Horowitz Freedom Center and Frontpage Magazine. Thomas celebrated his inclusion on Twitter, writing, “How do I list this on my CV?”
How do I list this on my CV? pic.twitter.com/ZWmxW11Wx7
— James M. Thomas (JT) 🌹 (@Insurgent_Prof) June 4, 2021
Auditor White has maintained throughout that the demand against Thomas is in no way political, but rather the Auditor’s office doing their job in aggressively protecting taxpayer funds just as he does across the state, no matter party affiliation or political leanings.
Will Thomas be made to pay?
Whether Thomas will be held to account for his work stoppage as demanded by the State Auditor remains unclear. Auditor White’s monetary demand would reimburse the state for Thomas’ lack of work as well as for the Auditor’s time in handling the matter.
Yet, until Thomas’ civil action against White for what the professor claims to be defamation and false statements is considered, the AG will not pursue enforcement of the demand.
Thomas’ claim against White states that under the legal concept of “defamation per se” no economic harm or harm to his reputation has to be proven; only the implication that there exists a lack of fitness for his job.
Auditor White did tell Ole Miss Chancellor Glenn Boyce by way of correspondence that the University should proceed to court to hear the matter of Thomas’ termination of employment, as referenced in Miss. Code Section 37-9-75(8).
In the release announcing the demand, Auditor White outlined that “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.
“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,” Auditor White said in the release. “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.’”
According to the Auditor’s office, Thomas ignored student emails for two days, resulting in students not receiving responses from their professor. This was verified through reviewing emails in coordination with Chancellor Boyce’s office.
In addition, Thomas had three classes to teach on those two days of his “work stoppage,” and he did not teach those days, according to the Auditor, telling students, “I will not be responding to emails,” and “I will not be holding meetings via zoom, including office hours…”
The Attorney General’s office filed a motion to dismiss Thomas’ defamation lawsuit against Auditor White on January 26, 2021, contending that each of the statements and claims made by Auditor White was in his official capacity.
“As a constitutional executive officer and statewide elected official, Defendant [White] should be entitled to the protection of an absolute privilege for statements undertaken in the performance of his official duties. As a matter of law, Plaintiff’s [Thomas] allegations of defamation should not be actionable,” the AG’s office wrote.
Thomas’ attorney, McDuff with MCJ, disagreed. He responded to the AG’s motion to dismiss on February 18, 2021, arguing that the Mississippi Legislature has made it clear through the Mississippi Tort Claims Act that while governmental officials have absolute state law immunity from individual liability for acts occurring within the scope of their employment, that immunity does not extend to fraud, malice, libel, slander, defamation or any criminal offense.
“Similarly, governmental entities have sovereign immunity from claims for defamation and these other intentional torts, but government officials sued individually do not,” McDuff states for Thomas, reiterating that their action is against Auditor White individually. The plaintiff states he is not seeking payment using taxpayer money, saying if a jury finds a monetary damage is owed it should be paid personally by White.
This case is pending a hearing in October 2021 in Hinds County Circuit Court. The outcome could determine whether the Attorney General’s office then pursues further action against Thomas based on Auditor White’s December 2020 demand which remains unpaid, and determine how the University of Mississippi also considers the professor’s employment.
Below are the initial demand letter, letter to Chancellor Boyce, and the court filings on behalf of James Thomas and Auditor Shad White.