State Auditor, Talk Radio Host Deride Attorney Rob McDuff, ‘Strike Prof’ on Air

Mississippi State Auditor Shad White sent armed agents to James Thomas' home and wrote a letter saying the University of Mississippi can fire him for participating in the #ScholarStrike teach-in to help students better understand racism, social justice and police brutality. White says it was an illegal strike by a government employee under state law. Courtesy State Auditor Shad White

During an interview on the Gallo Radio Show on SuperTalk this morning, Mississippi State Auditor Shad White and Gallo discussed White’s pursuit of restitution against tenured professor James Thomas for his participation in Scholar Strike. They also derided famed constitutional-law and defense attorney Rob McDuff, who is defending Thomas, while avoiding addressing the key part of the defense strategy.

In his Sept.14, 2020, letter to University of Mississippi Chancellor Glenn Boyce, auditor White suggested that Thomas could be fired for his participating in the nationwide effort to focus attention on racial and policing injustice and to use Scholar Strike as a teaching tool for students.

Yesterday, Gallo provided background on Thomas’ story to his audience and referred also to the plight of professor Wendy Moore, which Texas A&M suspended for two days for participating in Scholar Strike. Gallo let out an audible sigh and said, “Some of these people are taking over our universities, they’ve actually taken them over as far as curriculum and everything else.”

“This has gone on too far,” the radio host continued. “This guy has been pushing the system and thinking that he was in the right for a long, long time. … He’s not helping; he’s part of the problem, not the solution.”

When White joined Gallo via telephone this morning, the pair quickly began criticizing Thomas’ attorney, Rob McDuff, a Mississippian whom Harvard Law Today called “Atticus Finch with a Laptop.” McDuff is known for successfully defending Curtis Flowers, a Mississippi man who spent decades in prison for a crime he did not commit, among other cases.

“The best that this Harvard-trained lawyer could come up with was, ‘Well, my client worked on some Saturdays and the previous Labor Day, so that makes this all OK. That’s not a good excuse, and that’s not a legal argument.’

“Even worse than that,” Gallo said, “was the asinine reasoning (Thomas) has: ‘well, I may not have been there, but I was thinking.”

Gallo tacked on by insulting the Harvard Law program when he asked the auditor, “This is what they teach them at Harvard?”

“That wasn’t on the curriculum when I was there, fortunately,” White answered.

White graduated from Harvard Law in 2014. He was president of the conservative Federalist Society there.

McDuff: Auditor ‘Studiously Avoided’ Key Provision of Strike Law

Gallo’s characterization of McDuff’s legal answer to White’s investigation of Thomas, however, left out the attorney’s primary argument indicated in public statements to date: Thomas did not, in fact, violate an actual state law against strikes, he argues.

 

J.T. Thomas
Mississippi State Auditor Shad White indicated to Paul Gallo on SuperTalk show that James Thomas (pictured) is part of “some set of tenured professors (who) believe that no law applies to them. Thomas’ lawyer, Rob McDuff, says the law White cites decidedly does not apply to Thomas’ actions. Photo courtesy James Thomas

 

McDuff has been adamant that Shad White “studiously avoided” a key provision in the Mississippi statute that the auditor claims Thomas violated. 

In a September statement, McDuff wrote: “The Auditor’s letter claims that “[s]trikes are illegal in Mississippi” and “[t]he University should . . .proceed to court” to seek Professor Thomas’s termination for violating that law. Despite quoting several portions of that law, the Auditor studiously avoided quoting the key provision stating that any work stoppage is a ‘strike’ only if it is ‘for the purpose of inducing, influencing or coercing a change in the conditions, compensation, rights, privileges or obligations of public employment.’

The auditor has provided no evidence that James Thomas violated what is stated in the law, McDuff argues.

“Professor Thomas did not join the #ScholarStrike to change his working conditions or increase his compensation,” he wrote. “Instead, he did it as part of the national effort to highlight and combat racism and injustice. His actions clearly did not violate this law. 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 under that law.”

McDuff seems unfazed by the auditor’s comments and demands to date. The Jackson attorney, who has argued multiple times before the U.S. Supreme Court and has helped free a number of innocent prisoners during his career, only provided a brief response to White’s recent demand for Thomas to pay the state of Mississippi nearly $2,000. Almost half of the auditor’s monetary demand was made up fees to pay for his investigation.

Radio Host: ‘Maybe You Don’t Need To Go To College’

On Gallo’s show today, White did not address the language in the state law he is using against  Thomas that McDuff says clearly does not apply to Thomas’ academically focused “scholar strike.” He answered more rhetorically about Thomas’ alleged motives instead.

Shad White
Mississippi State Auditor Shad White called into a SuperTalk radio show on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. He and host Paul Gallo criticized attorney Rob McDuff’s legal argument, but did not say what it is—that the existing state law against teachers strikes pointedly does not apply to James Thomas’ actions. Courtesy State Auditor Shad White

“For some reason,” the state auditor said, “some set of tenured professors believe that no law applies to them. If universities continue to operate in a way that doesn’t check those professors, you are at some point going to have a rebellion of parents and taxpayers and donors who are going to be sick of it. And they’re not going to go for it anymore, and there are going to be consequences for these universities if they don’t keep this in check.”

Gallo then cited the national decline in university enrollment, saying there are a variety of reasons for this phenomena. “Maybe, incrementally, part of that, if you start doing some study on it, is the fact that these people have become so liberal that parents now are saying, ‘Well, maybe you don’t need to go to college,’” Gallo said.

“I think that’s a reasonable question to ask anybody,” White said. “Especially any seventeen year old. Is this worth it to you?” 

Last month, the Mississippi Free Press reported on a closely guarded climate survey of faculty, staff, and students at the University of Mississippi. The study indicated that 60 percent of faculty members had considered leaving the university in the last year.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in late September about the politicization of universities, often along conservative lines: “In recent years, a number of politically appointed public-university boards have used their broad powers to wade into contentious territory that often splits along partisan lines—setting policies around free speech, scrutinizing the perceived ideological underpinnings of curricula, targeting protections of tenure, and restraining collective-bargaining rights.”

Thomas himself faced a displeased Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning board to achieve tenure in 2019 after he made a controversial suggestion on Twitter for people to stick their fingers in the salads of U.S. senators during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing. He was responding to NBC talk-show host Joe Scarborough’s call for civility.

The sociology professor and racial-justice scholar received tenure, but faced death threats for his comments.

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