By Alyssa Schnugg
State Auditor Shad White issued a demand that Ole Miss assistant professor James “JT” Thomas pay almost $2,000 after not working two days as part of the national #ScholarStrike movement in September.
Thomas took part in the two-day “strike” on Sept. 8 and 9 and emailed his students to inform them why he would not be present for those two days.
“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,” White said Tuesday in a written statement. “It’s simple — the taxpayers of Mississippi cannot pay someone when they did not provide the good or service they were hired to provide.”
The $1,912.42 demand includes $946 for principal and $965 for interest and investigative costs, according to the auditor’s office.
In the Tuesday press release, White said that Thomas ignored emails from his students over the two days.
“In short, he refused to perform his job duties, and his tuition-paying students suffered as a result,” White said. “The taxpayers and donors to the university suffered too.”
In September, White’s office asked the University of Mississippi Chancellor Glenn Boyce to dock Thomas’ pay and consider his termination.
“As for Prof. Thomas’s termination, our investigation revealed that Prof. Thomas’s contract is with the Institutions of Higher Learning,” White said. “IHL will ultimately have to decide if they will take Prof. Thomas to court to hear the matter of his termination.”
Thomas’ attorney Rob McDuff, director of impact litigation at Mississippi Center for Justice, released the following statement on Tuesday afternoon:
“Because of the pandemic and students varied schedules, Professor Thomas was not teaching specific classes on specific days last fall, but instead provided students with weekly lesson plans that included lectures he had recorded, reading assignments, quizzes, multimedia content, and other materials. While he joined college professors from around the country in a two-day #ScholarStrike to call attention to racism and injustice, he worked the prior weekend and the Labor Day holiday to prepare the lesson plans.
“During the two-day call to action, Professor Thomas also worked toward finishing a manuscript for publication. He missed no classes and was available to students both before and after the strike, as he is most weekdays, evenings, and weekends. Professor Thomas’s actions did not violate any law and he does not owe the State any money. If the Auditor wants to pay him extra for the personal days he has not used, the weekends and holidays he has worked over the years, including those he worked preparing the lesson plan that week, then maybe we can talk about whether he should pay any money because of his participation in the #ScholarStrike. Professor Thomas is a good teacher who works hard for his students and who earns his salary.”
If Thomas fails to pay the demand within 30 days, the case will be referred to the Attorney General’s Office, according to White.