Truckee Meadows Community College Professor Lars Jensen was insubordinate to his superiors at TMCC. That’s according to a hearing officer who heard two days of testimony about the college’s move to fire the longtime math instructor.
The officer, attorney Vicky Oldenburg, determined that because Jensen did not do what his deans asked of him on at least three occasions, he is considered insubordinate.
Jensen was told to take a training in online course software Canvas but did so late. Oldenburg also said Jensen disrupted a math summit at the college when he handed out copies of his opinion about changes to the college’s math curriculum.
“The preponderance of the evidence [also] establishes that Dr. Jensen failed to comply, in a timely manner, with the Dean’s request that all faculty submit their furlough days in Workday for tracking,” Oldenburg wrote.
Jensen said Oldenburg missed a lot in her report particularly with respect to legal precedents covering academic freedom.
“We are very disappointed with the conclusions and recommendations in Special Hearing Officer Oldenburg’s report,” he said. “We feel that her report ignored longstanding state and federal precedent protecting faculty speech and academic freedom.”
Jensen cited a 1954 case in the Nevada Supreme Court in which a University of Nevada professor ultimately prevailed against his firing attempt, also for insubordination, by UNR.
“This follows a dangerous pattern at TMCC,” Jensen said. “It further underlies the importance that faculty disciplinary panels be subject to outside binding arbitration, which unfortunately is not available at TMCC.”
An expert on academic freedom, who testified at Jensen’s hearing, said that Jensen’s case could be successfully litigated.
“It amazes me that I need to say this, but administrators cannot ban faculty from giving pieces of paper to each other during a break at an event,” John Wilson wrote in the Academe Blog. “This is not a difficult issue. Incredibly, the administration argued that it can not only ban a professor at a public college from giving pieces of paper to others during a break at a public event, but can even fire the professor for this paper crime.”
Wilson also summarized the 1954 court case.
“In 1954, the Nevada Supreme Court in State v. Board of Regents of University of Nevada overturned the firing of Professor Frank Richardson on the grounds of insubordination because the professor had criticized the administration for lowering academic standards and distributed a handout to other faculty members.
“This is a remarkable parallel to Jensen’s case 67 years later. It’s important to note that the Nevada Supreme Court made this ruling long before the US Supreme Court’s expansion of First Amendment protections and recognition of academic freedom in the 1960s. Yet even during the height of McCarthyism, the Nevada Supreme Court firmly rejected the attempt of a public college to fire a dissenting professor using the excuse of ‘insubordination.’
“This strong precedent shows that TMCC is almost certain to lose a lawsuit even if it succeeds in pressuring faculty to go along with its retaliatory efforts to dismiss Lars Jensen for daring to disagree with the administration.”
The hearing officer’s report is next to be reviewed by a faculty committee. TMCC’s president will make a final decision to terminate Jensen’s employment.
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.