‘The Right Decision’

Truckee Meadows Community College says it won’t fire a professor accused of “insubordination,” after all.

November 29, 2021
Lars Jensen

Truckee Meadows Community College in Nevada backed off its attempt to fire Lars Jensen, a tenured professor of math, for alleged “insubordination,” deciding last week that he may stay on there.

In a four-line email to Jensen, President Karin Hilgerson said she’d accepted the recommendation of a special hearing committee of faculty members to retain him, and that he “shall be continued in employment.”

Jensen said it’s “good to see academic freedom prevail at the end of the day. What has it come to if a faculty member cannot speak on an academic matter?”

Truckee Meadows informed Jensen of its intention to fire him earlier this year, citing two back-to-back unsatisfactory performance reviews on his part. These reviews were less about Jensen’s teaching than his comportment, however, namely his “insubordination in two instances.”

In the first instance of alleged insubordination, Jensen handed out a flier criticizing the college’s math standards at a state math summit, even after he’d been warned that there was no time to do so. Truckee Meadows said this amounted to disrupting the meeting. Jensen said he was trying to address how—in his view—the college was watering down the math curriculum in its adoption of a state Board of Regents policy replacing remedial math courses with a “corequisite support” program.

Jensen has said there is nothing wrong with the corequisite approach in theory, but that the math faculty at Truckee Meadows felt pressured to eliminate the teaching of core algebra concepts in order to make room for corequisite support.

Jensen was also accused of failing to make suggested changes to his syllabus, complete online teaching training and fill out paperwork about his furlough days in a timely manner.

Following a two-day hearing this fall, a special hearing officer appointed by the college from an outside law firm found that Jensen was in fact responsible for multiple instances of insubordination, including at the math summit and regarding the Canvas training.

While Jensen has argued that the college was retaliating against him for speaking out about the curriculum, the hearing officer, Vicky T. Oldenburg, found that Truckee Meadows hadn’t violated Jensen’s academic freedom, because he would have been allowed to put his flier on a designated whiteboard in the parking lot of the math summit. Moreover, Oldenburg wrote in her hearing report, the college hadn’t objected to the content of the flier—just Jensen’s “insubordination” in passing it out despite being told he shouldn’t due to time constraints.

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The hearing officer’s report was reviewed by an advisory faculty committee, which recommended in a short memo to Hilgerson, the president, that she continue Jensen’s employment instead of terminate him.

Jensen said he’s “grateful that the faculty committee made the right decision. It took courage to reject the hearing officer’s report and reverse her decision. I think this is a win, not only for me, but for the whole college, for education and for the state.”

John K. Wilson, an independent scholar of academic freedom who testified on Jensen’s behalf during the hearing, said that Jensen’s job is safe—“for the moment, although the administration can make up another excuse to try to fire him next year if he’s late turning in any form this year.”

Threats to academic freedom don’t only come from dismissals that are upheld, Wilson continued. “There’s also a serious threat from these investigations and hearings seeking to punish people for protected free speech. It creates a chilling effect on the entire campus, since no one wants to be put through this ordeal even if they eventually prevail.”


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