A Truckee Meadows Community College professor was nearly fired for daring to suggest the school retain rigorous math standards. Thankfully, he managed to keep his job.
Professor Lars Jensen, a tenured math professor who has worked at Truckee for 22 years, had defended math standards when Nevada’s new curriculum changed to essentially allow remedial math courses to count as college credit, The College Fix reported. On October 1, Truckee initiated a formal hearing process to end Jensen’s tenure and fire him, citing two years’ worth of bad performance reviews. Jensen, however, told the outlet that the negative performance reviews are just cover for the school to fire him for objecting to the new curriculum.
“The reason I received the unsatisfactory evaluations, I believe, is in retaliation for having spoken up against President Hilgersom and other administrators’ management style,” Jensen told the Fix in mid-October. “In particular, I have spoken openly about how the college has lowered the standards of a college math course, as the college has transitioned its curriculum in the course to the co-requisite remediation model now sweeping the country.”
“When I spoke up against the lowering of standards in the course, I was silenced, given a letter of recommendation, and subsequently an unsatisfactory annual performance evaluation for 2019-20,” he added. “The following year, the college again targeted me and falsely claimed my syllabi to be incomplete and that I missed a training, and for that they gave me another unsatisfactory evaluation for 2020-21.”
In one of those negative reviews, Jensen was cited for passing out a flyer at a math summit that criticized the school for lowering math standards. The review cited him for “insubordination” because he continued to hand out the flyer after being asked to stop.
Last month, a hearing officer determined Jensen violated college policy by protesting the new curriculum. She mentioned the flyer incident, saying Jensen violated school policy by “willfully disregarding Dean Ellsworth’s directions and interrupted the Math Summit by intentionally and without authorization distributing his handout during the Summit.”
A five-person faculty termination board, however, recommended Jensen keep his job, a decision that was accepted by Truckee President Karin Hilgersom.
Jensen told the Fix that the determination was a “win for academic freedom.”
“We are relieved that the faculty committee made the right decision and that the president ultimately backed off,” Jensen told the outlet. “It is good to see that academic freedom prevailed, as it should have.”
Jensen was backed by several faculty organizations, who wrote to the hearing office in his defense.
“His termination would be a violation of his academic freedom and his rights as an academic faculty member and would constitute a travesty of justice,” wrote the Nevada Faculty Alliance, the local affiliate of the American Association of University Professors. “In addition, it would very likely lead to successful litigation against TMCC.”
The Academic Freedom Alliance also supported Jensen, writing that the negative reviews “were explicitly grounded in part on Professor Jensen’s constitutionally protected speech.”
“As a consequence, the disciplinary hearings raise grave concerns that Professor Jensen is being retaliated against for his constitutionally protected criticism of the college’s administration and efforts to communicate his concerns about the academic functioning of the college to his colleague and to other interested parties, the organization wrote.”
Jensen continued to work throughout the ordeal.