Attorney Rob McDuff sent out a statement on Friday claiming that his client, associate professor of sociology James Thomas, did not break Mississippi law when he participated in a two day “scholar strike” earlier this month.
Thomas participated in the nationwide scholar strike in which academics across the country stopped working for two days to protest racial violence. The movement started with a tweet from Anthea Butler, associated professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, which said she was, “down as a professor to follow the NBA and strike for a few days to protest police violence in America.”
State auditor Shad White sent a letter to Chancellor Glenn Boyce on Sept. 14 accusing Thomas of breaking a Mississippi law which bars employees of the state from going on strike
“for the purpose of inducing, influencing or coercing a change in the conditions, compensation, rights privileges or obligations of public employment.”
McDuff claims that Thomas did not break the law because he did not go on strike for better working conditions but rather as a form of protest against racial injustice.
“His actions clearly did not violate this law,” McDuff said. “Unfortunately, the auditor, in this letter and in many public statements, interviews and social media posts about Professor Thomas since, has failed even to mention this particular provision of the law. Instead, without justification, he has continued to claim that Professor Thomas’s actions were illegal.”
White’s letter to Boyce asked that the university recover money it paid to Thomas for the two days of work and said that the university should move forward to fire Thomas, who was granted tenure in 2019.
McDuff’s statement also claims that Thomas worked during the scholar strike. McDuff said Thomas regularly creates lesson plans that he puts online every week for his students to work on, which were already posted the week the scholar strike began. He added that Thomas continued researching and writing for a scholarly manuscript during the scholar strike.