TMCC backs off from firing longtime faculty member

TMCC backs off from firing longtime faculty member
An October hearing at Truckee Meadows Community College to fire longtime tenured faculty member Lars Jensen had 11 witnesses testifying in support of Jensen, pictured here. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno, Oct. 22, 2021.

RENO–A Truckee Meadows Community College committee today recommended against the firing of a longtime, tenured faculty member. Administrators wanted Lars Jensen fired for what they said was insubordination.

A hearing officer, after reviewing two days of testimony, determined Jensen was insubordinate. That decision was followed by the committee’s review of the case. 

Faculty members protested the move to fire Jensen. They said two deans and TMCC President Karin Hilgersom were being retaliatory and violating Jensen’s academic freedom and First Amendment rights.

Faculty rights groups and national free-speech advocates weighed in on the case.

Academic freedom expert John Wilson, who testified as an expert witness during the hearing held to fire Jensen, said, “[The American Association of University Professors] ‘has long opposed insubordination as a ground for dismissal’ and that it’s very rare for colleges to use insubordination as a basis for dismissing faculty. 

“That’s because insubordination is a term that can be easily abused to violate the academic freedom of faculty. So insubordination needs to be carefully defined.”

The committee of TMCC faculty and administrators recommended, with no explanation, Jensen continue to be an employee. 

A letter by Hilgersom provided to This Is Reno and dated today, also with little explanation, notes Jensen will be retained based on the committee’s findings. 

“I accept the recommendation of the Special Hearing Committee. Dr. Jensen shall be continued in employment,” the letter states.  Hilgersom could have fired Jensen regardless of the committee’s recommendation.

TMCC officials did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

One TMCC faculty member today said TMCC “would have faced a revolt” if Hilgersom proceeded to fire Jensen. “We were planning to picket outside the college.”

Another faculty member, Scott Huber, said “It’s the appropriate conclusion. It was bogus from the start. It should have never been initiated.” He said the campus is “still in turmoil.”

A webinar held yesterday by the Nevada Faculty Alliance discussed Jensen’s case. The featured speaker, David Demers, was a professor at Washington State University. 

He was fired by the institution, also for insubordination. He sued to retain his job, ended up going bankrupt to fight his case and ultimately prevailed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

He said Jensen would prevail in his case if TMCC fired him.

“His speech is protected,” Demers said. “I cannot see any other outcome other than him winning the case. His administration doesn’t know it yet because they haven’t hired any competent legal assistance to provide them with any advice.”