Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) Professor Lars Jensen faced on Friday attorneys and two deans who want to see him fired from the institution.
They said he is guilty of insubordination. Jensen’s attorney, John Nolan, countered that the charges against him are protracted, extreme and excessive.
“Our case is fairly simple,” Nolan said. “His desire to provide the very best for his students has led to increasingly hostile attacks against him by the TMCC administration. Dr. Jensen has been publicly humiliated in meetings. He has been evaluated as excellent … only to have his ranking downgraded to unsatisfactory by upper-level administrators, and he has numerous instances of being punished for minor infractions that were ignored for other faculty.”
Nolan also said that, at a math summit, Jensen was not allowed to provide input, so he passed out printouts of his views instead.
“The events at the math summit violated his academic freedom,” Nolan said. “Insubordination, according to [Nevada System of Higher Education] (NSHE) code and Nevada state law, is defined as ‘the failure to follow a lawful, direct, written order.’ That never happened … and even if insubordination happened, termination is very rarely … warranted for a first-time offense.”
Jensen, in a statement during the hearing, said he’s in his 26th year at TMCC.
“I make it a point to know the rules and the policies of my workplace, [and] I follow them, whether I agree with them or not,” he said. “The evidence … does not even rise to the level of jaywalking.”
Jensen alleged to have not taken trainings
NSHE attorney John Albrecht said the case against Jensen surrounds his alleged refusal to take online trainings, punitive grading practices, failing to respond in a timely manner to his deans and an alleged “disruption of an official [NSHE] event,” the math summit where Jensen passed out copies of his statement on the TMCC math curriculum.
A TMCC dean, Anne Flesher, said Jensen did not follow through “on a number of items.”
An unsatisfactory ranking — one of two unsatisfactory evaluations given to Jensen — “was due to insubordination,” Flesher said. “No other faculty has received an unsatisfactory [rating]. Would I do it again? Yes.”
In letter, Flesher said “Dr. Jensen has demonstrated a consistent pattern of defiance and disrespect by his refusal to apply the repeated directives and not responding to the dean’s requests in a timely manner.”
Fellow TMCC faculty members said that many if not most faculty could be accused of similar charges Jensen faces. Professor Scott Huber disputed Flesher’s characterization in his evaluation.
“I’m not aware of anywhere where Dr. Jensen interacted with the dean in a contradictory way,” he testified. “[There was] no hint of anything remotely like insubordination. Where is the insubordination arising from?”
Julia Hammett, TMCC anthropology professor, testified that most faculty at TMCC have not taken training on Canvas, the online teaching platform used by the college.
“There was never an email that I saw that said everyone was required to take it,” she testified. Hammett said she also had not completed the training.
“Most of those standards are guidelines,” she added. “I did ask someone … how many faculty had taken the official Canvas 123 [training], and I was told a number that is significantly less than half the full time faculty. Most full time faculty have not taken [it] or are not yet on a list [as] having taken Canvas 123.
“I’m planning on taking it in January, so I don’t have a supervisor playing gotcha over it.”
NSHE attorney Albrecht wanted to know from whom she got that information. He made Hammett identify an IT employee at TMCC.
“This is proper cross examination,” Albrecht said. “She said a person told her. I’m asking for the name of that person. We might be able to call the person for rebuttal [and they could] say, ‘No, I never said that.’”
Hammett said her information was not an official list and that it may not have been up to date.
Albrecht interrupted her testimony.
“Do you have notes up there?” he asked. “Can I see them?”
Albrecht then stood over Hammett to inspect her notes. The hearing officer said Hammett had the right to use notes to refresh her memory.
“His academic freedom is being trampled”
None of the charges against Jensen rise to the level of firing, said Kent Ervin with the Nevada Faculty Alliance.
“From the hearing so far, TMCC is offering only extremely flimsy pretexts to terminate a tenured professor and even those don’t stand up to scrutiny,” he told This Is Reno. “If TMCC’s motive is anything other than silencing a critical voice on curricular issues well within Professor Jensen’s area of expertise in mathematics — it is not evident. His academic freedom is being trampled.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education also said Jensen’s free speech rights are being infringed upon.
“Jensen’s distribution of flyers at [the math summit] was protected by his First Amendment right to comment as a citizen on matters of public concern, and TMCC cannot use it as grounds for termination,” wrote Joshua Bleisch with FIRE. “The speech that generated that unsatisfactory review is clearly protected. Accordingly, Jensen’s termination, based on receiving consecutive unsatisfactory annual reviews, would violate his First Amendment rights.”
Though the hearing was billed as an open process, Albrecht tried to prevent This Is Reno from recording the hearing. Jensen specifically said he wanted the news media present.
The hearing officer will make a recommendation as to facts of Jensen’s case, and then a committee will forward its recommendations to the TMCC president.
Three witnesses for Jensen, of up to 18, testified Friday before the hearing was adjourned. A hearing to schedule the remaining witnesses was scheduled Friday.
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 in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.