Any Republican faculty member would be right to have concerns about getting a fair hearing with James Thomas at the helm.
The professor at the University of Mississippi who tweeted “MAGA teens are modern day Hitlerjugend” has landed a leadership spot on the chancellor’s “Academic Freedom & Faculty Responsibility” committee.
According to an article in Campus Reform, the associate professor of sociology, James Thomas, tweeted that he had been elected chair of the committee in September. The role of the committee, naturally, is to handle issues related to faculty employment.
Ironically enough, Thomas has made headlines for tweeting some pretty irresponsible things in the past. For example, last October, Thomas declared that “MAGA teens are modern day Hitlerjugend. Got a uniform and everything” — and, to remove any misconception that he might be joking, he tweeted: “When I said MAGA teens are modern day Hitlerjugend, I meant it. What we’re watching at this rally is the aesthetics of fascism.”
That same month, Thomas also encouraged people to harass U.S. senators, tweeting: “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.”
First of all, let me just say that I am all for free speech. In fact, I’m an absolutist: I am so grateful that we live in a country where we have those rights, where Thomas can actually tweet things like that and not face any legal repercussions. Sure, I may think that his comments were stupid, uninformed, offensive, and incorrect — but I would still defend his right to say them.
That being said, though, they were still stupid, uninformed, offensive, and incorrect. Comparing Trump’s supporters to Hitler’s is offensive — not only to those supporters, but also to anyone who has ever been impacted by Hitler’s cruelty. Say what you will about Trump, but none of his transgressions exactly hold a candle to those of someone who literally exterminated millions of Jews.
What’s more, Thomas’s extreme views on this subject do raise the question of whether he would actually even be able to do a job on the “Academic Freedom & Faculty Responsibility” committee fairly. This committee, after all, is tasked with conducting “hearings, when such are required in cases involving the dismissal or termination of tenured faculty, the non-renewal of a contract for a non-tenured faculty member when there is a substantial claim that such action violates academic freedom or equal employment rights, or the dismissal of a non-tenured faculty member prior to the expiration of a term appointment.”
In other words? Thomas is going to be the chairman of the body deciding who does and does not get to work at the University of Mississippi. Given the fact that he has repeatedly said that he equates Trump support to Nazism, any Republican faculty member would be right to have concerns about whether he or she could ever hope to get a fair hearing with Thomas at the helm. The threat of job loss due to this might even prompt some conservative employees (assuming, of course, that there even are any) to stay silent about their views — which would be a pretty ironic outcome to result from an appointment to a committee that’s also supposed to be tasked with protecting “academic freedom.”
Again: Thomas had every right to say what he said, but that doesn’t mean that his words shouldn’t be taken into account when considering him for an appointment. Maybe it’s just me, but I do kind of feel like the ideal candidate to head a committee that’s in charge of all faculty members’ employment wouldn’t be someone who has openly professed hatred for people of a certain political party — and that the ideal candidate for the head of a committee that’s supposed to protect academic freedom wouldn’t be someone whose very presence there may threaten it.