A battle over academic freedom and the power of athletics is pitting faculty against top leaders at Appalachian State University.
A faculty committee recently found that university administrators violated the academic freedom of a tenured sociology professor. The professor, Jammie Price, was disciplined after students complained that she had made disparaging remarks about athletes and had shown a film about the pornography industry. At the time of the complaints last spring, the campus was embroiled in controversy over allegations of sexual assault by ASU athletes.
Price was placed on administrative leave with pay in March. The university in Boone, part of the University of North Carolina system, also imposed a professional development plan on her to address her teaching effectiveness, despite a satisfactory five-year review just weeks earlier.
Price filed a grievance, and after 24 hours of hearings and the review of more than 100 exhibits, a faculty committee concluded in October that the ASU administration had violated Prices rights to due process and academic freedom by removing her from the classroom.
Price, who returned to the classroom this fall, said she was ostracized while an investigation was conducted.
Treated like a terrorist
I was removed not just from teaching but also from campus, she said in an interview this week. They labeled me a threat to campus. I was basically treated like I was a terrorist.
The faculty panel recommended setting aside the professional development plan, writing that such a plan constitutes an unwarranted intrusion on Prof. Prices academic freedom to teach her subject as she sees fit.
But in a letter last week to Price, ASU Chancellor Ken Peacock said he is rejecting the faculty panels recommendation. I find no persuasive evidence in the record to indicate how the professional development plan will unreasonably restrict your academic endeavors, he wrote.
ASU officials declined to answer questions about the case Wednesday.
The university correspondence which Dr. Jammie Price has circulated is part of a confidential personnel matter, the details of which the university is prohibited under state law from discussing, Hank Foreman, associate vice chancellor for university communications and cultural affairs, said in a statement. Appalachian has policies in place to ensure employees have a process by which their grievances may be heard and their rights protected.
Racism and porn
The chain of events started on March 2 in Prices introductory sociology class. She wore a T-shirt with a slogan related to a silent protest on campus about the recent sexual assaults.
Price recalls that she answered some students questions about the T-shirt at the beginning of class. Then, during a lecture on institutional racism, she said, she talked about how college athletes who are predominantly black are treated by the system. Though they may have scholarships, they are not really having the same college experience as other students, she said she told the class.
All I was doing was straight sociology, Price said.
A female student athlete in the class was offended and complained to an associate athletics director about Price. She told university officials that Price had ranted about student athletes and made remarks that she perceived as racist. Another student expressed similar concerns.
An investigation was launched, and Price was told not to do anything to retaliate or intimidate the student.
Price said she wasnt sure what she could teach for her next class, which was to be focused on gender. She chose to show a film called The Price of Pleasure. She described it as an anti-porn documentary that explores how mainstream businesses such as hotels and financial funds are tied into pornography. The film includes blurred images of porn.
Two more students complained.
ASU: Price confrontational
Administrators found fault with Prices classroom conduct. Linda Foulsham, director of equity, diversity and compliance, wrote in her investigative findings about Price: Her pedagogy appears to be consistently confrontational, belittling, angry, critical, and destructive of the potential for a valuable educational experience for her students. Whether or not students felt demeaned or harassed based on their race, sex, political affiliation, status as an athlete or status as an Appalachian student, there is a consistent pattern of Dr. Price making students feel uncomfortable.
A faculty panel sided with Price on most issues of the case, though the group criticized the professor for a serious lapse in judgment in showing a video about the porn industry with no contextual background or class discussion.
The faculty review also found that the subjects discussed in class were not off-limits, even though they might have been unsettling to some.
In teaching race and ethnicity, Prof. Price discusses race in the context of higher education and student athletics. In doing so, she does not paint a pretty picture, and it intentionally hits home with many students, the faculty report said. Even if her illustrations are critical of Appalachian, that is legitimate sociology.