Committee rules on professor at ASU
by Anna Oakes
"As you may know, the FGHC report is a personnel record, and university officials cannot discuss it or the hearing process publicly," said Gonzalez. "We are required by state law to keep most personnel records, including the report and other information regarding the hearing, confidential."
An Appalachian State University professor said a Faculty Grievance Hearing Committee has sided with her after she claimed that ASU violated due process and her academic freedom in actions it took in response to complaints students made about her classes.
"If the chancellor accepts the report, I keep my job," said sociology professor Jammie Price. "If he rejects the report, they start termination. I can appeal. But success of appeals (is) unlikely."
Price was placed on administrative leave with pay March 16 after complaints from four students, who alleged that Price made disparaging remarks about student-athletes, repeatedly criticized ASU administrators, discussed personal material not on the syllabus and showed a pornography-related documentary without warning about the film's potentially objectionable content.
On March 2, Price wore a T-shirt to class that signaled her intention to participate in a silent protest related to ASU football players who were accused of sexual assault, and when Price was asked about the shirt, "remarks ensued about the sexual assault case," the report stated. Two students complained, and, Price said, because she was instructed not to do anything that could be construed as retaliation, Price chose to show the documentary on March 7. Two more students complained.
Following an investigation by ASU, Price was allowed to return to her classroom but required to engage in several "corrective actions," including sensitivity training and random peer reviews.
Price filed a grievance petition on June 13, contesting her placement on administrative leave and the mandate to create a professional development plan because she said the actions violated due process and academic freedom and because there were "various procedural irregularities in the investigation process that led to those actions," the committee's report stated.
Hearing sessions were held on several dates between Aug. 31 and Sept. 25. ASU Provost Lori Gonzalez and Vice Provost Tony Carey were the respondents in the grievance. All committee members are faculty members at ASU.
On the matter of administrative leave, a majority of the committee found that the respondents lack the authority to impose involuntary administrative leave.
"There is nothing in the Faculty Handbook called 'administrative leave' and no section that directly addresses leave while an investigation proceeds," the report stated.
The respondents asserted that the provost has the ultimate authority to interpret the Faculty Handbook, the report said.
The committee also agreed with Price's assertion that being placed on involuntary leave constituted a "serious sanction" and as such, as outlined in the Faculty Handbook, Price should have been granted a timely hearing before the Faculty Due Process Committee.
ASU administrators, including Gonzalez, disagreed, stating the administrative leave was part of an investigation and not a disciplinary action.
The committee did not defend Price's decision to show the pornography documentary without providing context or warning.
"The committee concludes unanimously that the events of March 7 represent a serious lapse in judgment," the report stated.
When asked if she felt the hearing was conducted fairly, Price responded, "I am not sure a sick organization can do anything fairly."
"I think App State is a corrupt organization ... from the very top to the department level (the unit level)," she said. "The organization needs to get well. Usually with external help. In this case, with help from the UNC system. General Administration. That is who ultimately has responsibility."
Emails to ASU Chancellor Ken Peacock and to Gonzalez requesting comment were not immediately returned as of presstime.
In September, academic freedom and due process were discussed at length at the first ASU Faculty Senate meeting of the 2012-13 academic year. Several faculty members said they have felt a threat to academic freedom and a "chilling effect" on their speech in the classroom since Price was placed on administrative leave last spring.
Gonzalez, who attended the meeting, said some of the things being said about the case were not the "whole story."
"I've been an administrator, which really is not the evil empire," she said. "If we don't work together, then we're all doomed. I ask that you offer the benefit of the doubt."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the FGHC "unanimously" found that the respondents lack the authority to impose involuntary administrative leave. While the committee unanimously agreed that the Faculty Handbook did not have clear provisions for placing a faculty member on administrative leave with pay for the purpose of an investigation, a minority of the committee (two of five voting members) argued that "university administrators have inherent authority to place employees on administrative leave with pay in fulfillment of institutional management responsibilities."