JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Last week, a University of Mississippi Sociology professor sent an email to his students saying he was participating in a national strike to protest police violence. That move put him under legal scrutiny by the State Auditor’s office.
“Regardless of who you are, you can’t break state law," said State Auditor Shad White, referring to the actions of James “JT” Thomas, an associate professor at Ole Miss.
Thomas told students in that email that he would not be available to them in any way during the two days of the Scholar Strike to protest police violence.
“But in Mississippi we have a no strike law that says that public employees are not allowed to engage in a concerted work stoppage, or strike," White said.
The event was the national #ScholarStrike, which included participants from colleges and universities around the country. We contacted Thomas by email, and he said he’s not ready to speak publicly about it yet.
“In his email he tells students that he’s not going to be working, he’s not going to be returning their emails, he’s not going to be joining them for zoom calls, he’s not going to be doing office hours, he’s not going to be teaching classes and he had classes to teach,” said White.
The email reads as follows:
For the next two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) I’ll be participating in a nationwide #scholarstrike. This nationwide 48-hour work stoppage is part of a collective stand against police violence (particularly against communities of color) in the United States. During this time I will not be responding to emails. I will not be holding meetings via Zoom, including office hours, nor will I be providing course related instruction.
While social media commenters have brought up the politics of the strike as a possible motive for White, he says it doesn’t matter what the strike was about. State law dictates that strikes are illegal, but it also states that the penalty for striking is that the employer shall file suit and the court shall issue an order for termination of his or her employment.
White says the word being “shall” is different than if it was “should” or “may,” which would leave some decision up to the employer.
The University of Mississippi says they can’t comment on personnel matters. Meanwhile, White says he’s heard the criticism of his pursuit of the case.
“If they don’t like what the statute says, they’re free to run for the legislature and try to get that changed but the law is what it is and it applies in this case,” he said.