Auditor Issues Demand to University of Mississippi Professor

December 1, 2020

JACKSON, Miss. – Today State Auditor Shad White made the following statement:

“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. ‘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.

In this case, Prof. Thomas told the world on social media and his students in writing what he was doing:

‘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.’

Over two days Prof. Thomas ignored every single email from his students. My agents and I personally read each of those emails. 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.

Prof. Thomas had three classes to teach on those two days, and he did not teach them. He also told his students,

‘I will not be responding to emails’ and
‘I will not be holding meetings via zoom, including office hours . . .’

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. 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.’

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.

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.

The Office of the State Auditor takes Prof. Thomas at his word that he engaged in a work stoppage. 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.

As for Prof. Thomas’s termination, our investigation revealed that Prof. Thomas’s contract is with the Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL). IHL will ultimately have to decide if they will take Prof. Thomas to court to hear the matter of his termination. Questions about that should be directed to IHL.”

If Prof. Thomas fails to pay the demand within thirty 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.