Mississippi Official Targets Professor Who Took Part in “Scholar Strike”
Letter from the state auditor demanding his dismissal has led to death threats; PEN America says he should not be punished for speaking out
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — A professor at the University of Mississippi is receiving death threats after a state official called for him to be dismissed for participating in a social justice strike earlier this month. In a letter Monday, Mississippi’s state auditor called for the university to dismiss and withhold pay from tenured academic James M. Thomas after he participated in a “scholar strike” September 8-9. Thomas has previously been targeted for speaking out on issues of injustice.
“We are concerned that this letter and investigation is part of a concerted campaign meant to intimidate and chill the speech of faculty who are critical of the state or pushing for social change,” said PEN America’s Jonathan Friedman, director of the organization’s campus free speech project. “It is simply impossible to ignore the context. This is a professor who has a history of being selectively targeted for punishment over his social media posts, with both some alumni and some university trustees previously supporting efforts to have him fired for his opinions.”
PEN America also raised concerns about the state auditor’s involvement, saying it is a case of selective enforcement.
“This action may indeed fall under the purview of the state auditor, but it does raise questions about selective enforcement,” said PEN America’s Friedman. “It forces the question: Why was this particular faculty member targeted for such forceful reprimand? It is alarming that state officials sent investigators to Professor Thomas’s home in response to tweets and emails about how he was choosing to teach his courses and advance his scholarship. It is disturbing that he is now receiving death threats. University officials have previously stood up for Thomas’s right to academic freedom and due process; they have an obligation to continue to do so forcefully in their response to this letter.”