SHARE

Faculty panel backs professor in dispute over porn documentary

Punished for Discomfort in Class?
November 26, 2012

Jammie Price, a tenured professor of sociology at Appalachian State University, was suspended from teaching in March shortly after she showed a documentary about pornography in class, spoke critically about the way colleges treat minority athletes, and announced that she was backing a campus protest that charged the university with failing to adequately investigate allegations of sexual assaults by athletes. Price was also ordered to agree to a two-year "professional development plan" related to the views of administrators that she had made the classroom hostile for some students, and in particular for athletes who complained about her.

Last month, a faculty committee assigned to investigate the matter found that the university had violated Price's rights to due process and that imposing sanctions on her would violate her academic freedom. While the committee questioned Price's judgment in how she showed the documentary (not the choice of film itself), the panel said that she should not be required to submit to a two-year plan for change. On Wednesday, Chancellor Kenneth E. Peacock announced that he was rejecting the faculty review, and that he planned to order Price to agree to the development plan -- a move that she believes gives her the choice of being punished for exercising her free speech in the classroom or risking dismissal.

Peacock also said that he rejected the faculty committee's findings that the suspension -- lifted pending the faculty review -- violated her due process rights.

Price faced a series of student complaints in the spring about her teaching in an introductory sociology course. Two athletes first complained that she had made comments that suggested hostility toward athletes. Price has maintained that they didn't understand her comments, which were about the way many colleges focus more on the athletic than the academic success of minority students. Further, she criticized a university investigation into sexual assault allegations involving athletes, Price said, stressing that she didn't comment on all athletes. The university responded to these complaints by moving the athletes into a separate section so they would not be taught by Price.

Then other students -- and the mother of a student -- complained that Price showed the documentary "The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality and Relationships," in class. The film is a critical documentary about pornography, and has been used in many sociology courses, but it contains some footage that is more explicit than at least some of Price's students expected.

As detailed in the faculty committee's report, the complaints about the documentary prompted an administration investigation that found Price "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." As a result the university suspended Price, and the provost, Lori Gonzalez, then said that Price's criticisms of the university (such as comments about an "allegedly racist environment" and about athletes) were unprofessional, and that Price needed to develop a two-year professional development plan to deal with these shortcomings.

Price's appeal of the finding led the to the faculty report, part of the grievance process at the university.

The report concluded that Price deserved a hearing before being suspended, and rejected the administration's response that suspension did not constitute a serious enough sanction to merit a hearing.

Further, the report defended Price's right to talk about issues related to athletics, higher education and race -- even when those comments include criticism of the university. "In teaching race and ethnicity, Prof. Rice 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 says. "Even if her illustrations are critical of Appalachian, that is legitimate sociology. Teaching about the intersections of race and higher education and athletics is a legitimate topic for a sociology class. It is a legitimate argument in the field that student athletes receive special privileges.... In fact, ASU athletes do receive special privileges."

The panel also noted that the initial complaints by athletes received speedier consideration than is the norm, and that every effort was made to immediately make the athletes happy, rather than -- as the panel suggested should have happened -- to bring the athletes and Price together to try to work things out informally. "It is ironic that a case -- initiated at least in part by Prof. Price's assertion that student athletes get preferential treatment -- became an object demonstration that student athletes do, in fact, get preferential treatment."

As to the documentary on pornography, the report found that Price used "poor judgment" in showing it without talking about why she was doing so, or warning students about its graphic nature. But the report found that this was a matter for discussion within the department, and not for a university sanction of requiring a teaching improvement plan for the next two years. The report found no problem with using the documentary in class. (Price said that she didn't discuss the documentary in the class she gave it because there was no time, and that she did discuss it at the next course meeting. She also said she had to promise -- as a condition of having her teaching suspension lifted -- that she would seek prior approval for any video material and that, as a result, she has not used any.)

In a letter Wednesday to Price, the chancellor said he disagreed with the various findings of the faculty review committee. He cited the findings about the poor judgment in the way Price showed the documentary to say that the panel's conclusions were "inconsistent" with the evidence. He also said that administrators needed to be able to suspend faculty members without hearings so that they can investigate serious complaints.

An e-mail message to the chancellor and his spokesman asking for an interview to elaborate on his letter was not returned.

Price said that she felt vindicated by the faculty report, and distressed by the chancellor's rejection of its findings. Of the latter, she said, "this speaks to the lack of checks and balances on power here."

If she does not agree to undergo the teaching development plan that the chancellor wants, Price said, she expects to be fired. What will she do? "I know in my heart and mind that I didn't create a hostile learning environment for anyone, and I can't allow myself to be labeled that way, " she said. "But I also have two children, so I don't know."

Jammie Price, a tenured professor of sociology at Appalachian State Universit

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/04/23/professors-criticized-after-showing-sexually-explicit-videos-class#ixzz2D41AtCIG
Inside Higher Ed

 

 

Please review our commenting policy here.

Most:

  • Viewed
  • Commented
  • Past:
  • Day
  • Week
  • Month
  • Year
Loading results...
Back to Top