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ASU faculty members and others gathered outside B.B. Dougherty Hall on Monday morning, sharing concerns about academic freedom and due process. Photos by Kellen Moore.

Originally published: 2012-04-30 17:02:53
Last modified: 2012-05-01 18:15:58

ASU professor keeps job; sanctions imposed

ASU professor Jammie Price did create a "hostile learning environment for a significant number of students," according to a university investigation, and she now must comply with several conditions if she wants to keep her job.

The investigation, which was summarized for Price in a meeting and letter Monday, found that her demeanor in the classroom had failed to ensure a productive learning environment.

“A number of students reported that your teaching style was confrontational, belittling, angry, critical and destructive of the potential for a valuable education experience,” Provost Lori Gonzalez wrote in the letter provided to Price.

But Price maintains that the university's conclusions are incorrect and that the process it followed to form those decisions denied her due process and compromised the integrity of Appalachian State University for all faculty.

“I am not a hostile teacher; I don't create a hostile environment,” she said. “So I think something's gone wrong with how they came to that conclusion.”

Price, who has worked at ASU for about eight years, was placed on administrative leave March 16 after four students in her introductory sociology class complained about her classroom behavior.

Those allegations included that Price made disparaging remarks about student athletes, repeatedly criticized the ASU administration, discussed personal material not on the syllabus and showed a pornography-related documentary without warning about the film's potentially objectionable content.

Price — who said she asks students to call her by her first name and often teaches class while perched in a yoga position — said her classroom is anything but hostile. She says that all of the discussions that have occurred there have been relevant to the study of sociology.

If she plans to continue having those discussions, Price will have to comply with several corrective actions during the next two years, the provost's letter states.

Those include:
•    Implementing a process for midterm and end-of-semester teacher-course evaluations administered by a third party.
•    Including best practices for lower-division courses such as a required attendance policy, graded feedback prior to the midterm and individual class objectives to frame conversations dealing with sensitive topics.
•    Participating in professional development on sensitivity training and dealing with sensitive topics in the classroom.
•    Using a fully developed syllabus that includes disclaimers if controversial materials are to be used. “It is important to note that this requirement is not a ban on use of sensitive materials,” the letter states. “Instead, it is a requirement to implement responsible approaches to pedagogy.”
•    Submitting to random peer interviews across at least two semesters.

According to the letter, the investigation did not examine Price's decision to show “The Price of Pleasure,” a documentary about the pornography industry that includes images and terminology common to pornography.

“This is a determination left to the faculty,” the letter stated.

But the investigation did find that Price had erred by not providing a disclaimer about the film and contextualizing the material for students, the letter states.

Price's situation, which has gained national attention as it makes its rounds through higher education circles, led a group of about 50 people to gather in a peaceful protest outside the B.B. Dougherty Administration Building on Monday morning.

Several said they attended to support Price specifically, while others conveyed fear about the precedent the case could set for academic freedom and due process.

“I don't think anything good can come of this. The damage is done,” said Adam Newmark, a faculty member in government and justice studies. “Regardless of the outcome, I think our reputation has been compromised in some ways, and certainly Jammie's reputation has been compromised.”

Price has said she believes that her removal from the classroom, prohibition from Chapell Wilson Hall and orders not to contact students, former students or colleagues during the investigation amounted to a disciplinary measure.

But a March 20 letter from Gonzalez stated that the process by the Office of Equity, Diversity and Compliance was not a disciplinary process but an investigatory one.

If it were a disciplinary suspension, it would have to be accompanied by a faculty due process hearing, according to the ASU Faculty Handbook.

“This is not just about me,” Price said Tuesday. “This could happen to anybody here if App State doesn't get this worked out. Anybody could be questioned about a topic they were discussing in class if a student complained.”

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