University of Mississippi law professor James Thomas has previously caused a stir with intemperate comments about how conservative senators like Ted Cruz “don’t deserve your civility” and how people should attack them in public. Thomas, who was recently given tenure over opposition at the school, is back in the news by declaring that “MAGA teens are modern day Hitlerjugend [Hitler Youth]. Got a uniform and everything.”
Thomas identifies himself as “Husband. Father. Sociologist. Sower of Discourse. Slayer of Nazis. Author of books. Tenured (with dissent) since 2019.”
His tenure was indeed controversial. Thomas dew considerable ire with his comments following the protests against Cruz at a restaurant, which I criticized in the past. Thomas celebrated the action and encouraged others to be even more aggressive: “don’t just interrupt a Senator’s meal, y’all. Put your whole damn fingers in their salads. Take their [appetizers] and distribute them to the other diners. Bring boxes and take their food home with you on the way out. They don’t deserve your civility.”
The school recommended Thomas for tenure but the decision was debated by the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning. A divided board upheld the recommendation of the school. In my view, it was the correct decision. There is no evidence that Thomas’ intolerant and reckless comments on social media have been manifest in his conduct as an academic or teacher. It is certainly a matter of concern since the school likely has a significant number of students that Thomas considers Hitler youth. Yet, the school reviewed his record and not incident has been reported that show that Thomas’ extreme views on social media have influenced his teaching or treatment of students.
After the tenure vote, Thomas is back again spewing intolerant and offensive remarks on social media.
Thomas reaffirmed his earlier screed:
I know little about Thomas or his background. What little interest I had in that background evaporated with his latest tweet. However, his tenure vote highlights an ongoing concern for those of us in the free speech community. I support the right of faculty — and all people — to be able to espouse controversial views (even offensive views) in their private time so long as those views do not interfere with their employment.
As we have previously discussed (including a story involving an Oregon professor), there remains an uncertain line in what language is protected for teachers in their private lives. The incident also raises what some faculty have complained is a double or at least uncertain standard. We have previously discussed controversies at the University of California and Boston University, where there have been criticism of such a double standard, even in the face of criminal conduct. There were also such incident at the University of London involving Bahar Mustafa as well as one involving a University of Pennsylvania professor. Some intolerant statements against students are deemed free speech while others are deemed hate speech. There is a lack of consistency in these actions which turn on the specific groups left aggrieved by out-of-school comments.