State auditor demands nearly $2k from Ole Miss prof who went on 'illegal' strike
The Mississippi State Auditor is demanding that an Ole Miss professor pay back the money earned while participating in the “Scholar Strike.”
The professor maintains that he did nothing wrong, and his attorney denied any wrongdoing.
After participating in Scholar Strike, a University of Mississippi professor is being charged nearly $2,000 by the state to return the portion of his salary he earned during the work stoppage.
University of Mississippi sociology professor James Thomas participated in the national work stoppage in September. The strike consisted of educators protesting racial inequality. Campus Reform has previously reported on Thomas for statements he made such as "senators don't deserve your civility" after Sen. Ted Cruz was run out of a Washington, D.C. restaurant and calling "MAGA teens" "modern-day Hitlerjugend."
Thomas announced his decision on Twitter stating, “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.”
Mississippi State Auditor Shad White told the Clarion-Ledger that after he saw this tweet, he opened an investigation into the professor. In a letter to University of Missisiillsippi Chancellor Glenn Boyce, White called on the university to fire Thomas.
“Strikes are illegal in Mississippi. Mississippi Code 37-9-75 states that Prof. Thomas ‘shall’ not ‘promote, encourage or participate in any strike.” the letter states.
White also requested that the university “withhold Prof. Thomas’s pay for the two days he did not work.” White told the Clarion-Ledger that he decided to get involved because it is his job to "ensure that no public money is illegally spent.”
"You've got a professor that's telling the world that he's engaging in a strike," White said. "I wanted to make sure, at minimum, he doesn't get paid for those two days he went on strike, and I believe that falls completely under my purview."
Responding to criticism that this is a politically motivated investigation, White told Campus Reform in an exclusive interview that “it’s almost as if those folks have decided what the outcome of a case should be based on the ideology of the subject."
White released a statement about the matter revealing that the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor is demanding $1,912.42 from Thomas to recoup the salary he received during his two-day work stoppage. Of that amount, $946.74 is for the principal and $965.68 is for interest and investigative costs.
“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.
Several students told the auditor’s office that they were unable to reach Thomas during Scholar Strike. White claims that Thomas told students, “‘I will not be responding to emails’” and “‘I will not be holding meetings via Zoom, including office hours . . .’”
Thomas’ attorney Rob McDuff pointed Campus Reform toward his press release defending his client’s actions claiming, “[Thomas] 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.”
White was not satisfied with this explanation.
“Prof. Thomas’s attorney has never made an argument that addresses a basic principle in the Mississippi constitution and law: you cannot be paid if you did not work. I suspect this is because his attorney knows Prof. Thomas has no argument about Sections 66 and 96 of the constitution and the law,” White said in his press release.
If Thomas does not pay the nearly $2000 demand within thirty days, White says that the case will be “referred to the Attorney General’s Office.”
Mississippi Office of the State Auditor media relations Logan Reeves told Campus Reform what the next steps would be should Thomas fail to pay the demand.
“All demands issued by our office left unpaid after 30 days are transmitted to the Attorney General’s office for them to file civil suit against the subject,” Reeves said.
Thomas did not respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment in time for publication.
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