• November 22, 2014

Appalachian State Chancellor Defends Discipline of Professor Who Showed Film About Porn

Appalachian State University did not violate the academic freedom of a tenured professor who was placed on paid leave after students complained about disparaging remarks they said the professor had made on college athletes and about a film she had showed on pornography, the university's chancellor has concluded.

The chancellor this month rejected a faculty panel's findings that the administration erred last spring when it put Jammie Price, a professor of sociology, on leave and required her to complete a "professional-development plan" to continue teaching at the university.

The Faculty Grievance Hearing Committee issued a report in October, saying that the university should not have placed Ms. Price on leave without granting her a hearing. It also said the problems that athletes voiced about remarks Ms. Price made during class concerning athletes and racism could have been resolved in a meeting with the professor and the students. But that never happened.

Instead, the faculty committee said, the administration allowed the controversy to escalate into an investigation of Ms. Price after another incident in which the professor showed her class the movie The Price of Pleasure, which criticizes the porn industry. While the committee found that Ms. Price exercised "extremely poor judgment" in showing the film without first warning her class about its graphic nature, the panel said none of what the professor said or did during class warranted a professional-development plan.

The plan requires Ms. Price to agree to random observations of her teaching by her peers and to attend "sensitivity training." Her syllabus must also include disclaimers saying controversial materials will be used. The requirements, the committee found, violate Ms. Price's academic freedom.

In a letter to Ms. Price this month, however, the university's chancellor, Kenneth E. Peacock, said he rejected the faculty committee's findings about the inappropriateness of placing her on administrative leave. He also rejected its recommendation that the professional-development plan be set aside. Mr. Peacock did not return a telephone call requesting further comment.

In an e-mail message to The Chronicle, Ms. Price said she would not agree to a professional-development plan imposed by the administration. It is not clear what her refusal would mean to her employment at the university. If she is fired, she said, she would appeal the decision within the University of North Carolina system.

Andy Koch, a professor of political science and head of the university's Faculty Senate, said in an interview that the controversy involving Ms. Price had led the senate to create a "due-process task force to look at the way cases like this are handled."

"There has been concern among the faculty," he added, "that this case points to broader concerns about the commitment of the university to academic freedom."

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