Truckee Meadows Community College administrators are attempting to fire longtime faculty member Lars Jensen. Jensen, who is tenured, has been a math instructor at TMCC for 25 years.
“Our position is that Dr. Jensen has been unfairly treated over a multi year period and that he was an outspoken advocate for student success at TMCC,” said John Nolan, Jensen’s attorney. “It seems that he was unfairly targeted through multiple years of evaluations, and through various personnel decisions that have been made at TMCC leading up to the current situation for [a] special hearing that is going to decide whether or not he should be terminated.”
That hearing is Friday, Oct. 1, at the Nevada System of Higher Education’s (NSHE) conference room at 2601 Enterprise Road in Reno.
A TMCC spokesperson declined to comment for this story citing the matter being a personnel issue.
Firing a tenured faculty member is an unusual process since tenure is often considered “an indefinite appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency and program continuation,” according to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).
Tenure is designed to protect academic freedom so that faculty members cannot be terminated for speech, research or outside political pressure.
Nolan called TMCC’s attempt to fire Jensen excessive and extreme.
“It’s something that the AAUP has stood up against at other community colleges and universities across the country multiple times and even placed universities on [a] blacklist for things that are very similar to what they did [to] Dr. Jensen,” he said, calling Jensen’s case “a very bizarre situation.”
The Nevada Faculty Alliance last year threatened to censure TMCC for what it called a toxic and bullying environment manifested by TMCC President Karin Hilgersom.
“Since the creation of the Nevada Faculty Alliance in 1983 the organization has never formally censured an administrator in the Nevada System of Higher Education,” Faculty Alliance representatives wrote at the time. “However, due to the toxic, fear-ridden, and deteriorating culture at TMCC we are now seriously considering such a move.”
The group did not proceed with censure.
Kent Ervin with the Nevada Faculty Alliance called the chapter six process to fire Jensen a serious matter.
“Part of academic freedom–beyond the classroom–is the ability for faculty members to provide their reasoned opinions on issues of curriculum and academic standards without fear of retribution or retaliation,” he said. “The dismissal of a tenured faculty member is a very serious matter and may only happen for just cause as established and reviewed by a committee of faculty.
“TMCC must also follow the NSHE Code and their collective bargaining agreement with the Nevada Faculty Alliance.”
Records provided to This Is Reno show Hilgersom ordered in July a special hearing to consider Jensen’s ouster.
TMCC’s Academic Advisement Director Natalie Brown investigated claims against Jensen and issued “a charging letter” to Hilgersom. She said Jensen received two unsatisfactory evaluations, both of which were given to him by his dean.
“I…find that it is more likely than not that the conduct which supports the unsatisfactory ratings in fact occurred,” she wrote.
Nolan said the charges against Jensen are exaggerated.
“I’ve heard of insubordination terminations before,” he said. “This seems to be very insignificant, and it seems almost as if the charges are exaggerated to fit the agenda.”
Nolan also said that Friday’s hearing will have about 18 witnesses testifying in support of Jensen.
Jensen tried to retire but he said his applications for a phase-in retirement were denied by Hilgersom.
“Dr. Jensen had multiple times requested a phase-in retirement program,” Nolan said. “Through NSHE, you’re allowed a phased retirement, which is basically you teach one semester, then you have one semester off, and they allow that for anywhere from one year to five years. Dr. Jensen, I believe, requested a three year phase-in, and it was denied every single time by President Hilgersom.”
Earlier this year another faculty member prevailed in a lawsuit against TMCC after Hilgersom removed him from a department chair position.
District Court Judge David Hardy said there was no cause to remove humanities instructor Tom Cardoza from his chairship.
“There is no evidence of record that Mr. Cardoza failed or refused to perform the normal and reasonable duties of department chair,” he wrote last week. “With the removal of the Letter of Reprimand [from Cardoza’s personnel file], there were no ‘formal causes for discipline specified in the NSHE Code’ that would support Mr. Cardoza’s removal as department chair.”
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor, and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011, where he completed a dissertation on social media, journalism and crisis communications. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.