UPDATE: Chancellor says professor's freedom not violated
by Anna Oakes
UPDATE: An Appalachian State University spokesman noted on Nov. 28 that university leaders are unable to comment further on a grievance case involving ASU sociology professor Jammie Price.
"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," said ASU spokesman Hank Foreman in an emailed statement. "Appalachian has policies in place to ensure employees have a process by which their grievances may be heard and their rights protected."
Below is the previous version of this story.
In a memo to Appalachian State University sociology professor Jammie Price, Chancellor Ken Peacock said he disagrees that ASU lacked authority to place Price on involuntary administrative leave last spring. Peacock also disagrees that the requirement to create a professional development plan violates her academic freedom rights.
In March, four students complained 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. ASU administrators said Price created a "hostile learning environment."
Price was placed on administrative leave with pay but was later reinstated and required to engage in several corrective actions. This fall, Price was granted a grievance hearing in which she contested the university's actions, stating they violated due process and academic freedom.
In his letter, dated Nov. 21, Peacock said he intends to reject at least two recommendations of the Faculty Grievance Hearing Committee, which on Oct. 23 issued a report in Price's case against Provost Lori Gonzalez and Vice Provost Tony Carey.
Peacock said he did not intend to set aside the professional development plan required by Gonzalez.
"I find the committee's recommendation on that matter inconsistent with the record evidence and with the committee's findings as to your 'serious lapse in judgment' and exercise of 'extremely poor judgment,'" Peacock said in the memo. "I found no persuasive evidence in the record to indicate how the professional development plan will 'unreasonably restrict your academic endeavors.'"
In its report, the FGHC unanimously agreed that the Faculty Handbook did not include clear provisions for placing a faculty member on administrative leave with pay for the purpose of an investigation.
The committee, by a vote of 3-2, found that the administration's only authority to impose administrative leave is as provided in Faculty Handbook Section 4.10 and UNC Code Section 603.
But Peacock said he respectfully declined adoption of the FGHC's recommendation that "henceforth, no faculty member should be placed on involuntary administrative leave except as provided for in Faculty Handbook 4.10, unless the Faculty Handbook is otherwise revised."
"In order to comply with numerous legal obligations, administrators must have discretion to place an employee on leave with pay to facilitate investigation of complaints," he said. "I concur with the FGHC minority's view that administrators have 'inherent authority to place employees on administrative leave with pay in fulfillment of institutional management responsibilities.'"
Peacock said he would defer final action in the matter to allow Price a chance to respond to his memo by Dec. 17. Peacock did not respond to an email seeking additional comment as of presstime.
"I am disappointed in the chancellor's response," Price said. "I am still in the process of clarifying what this memorandum means in terms of the procedures outlined by our Faculty Handbook, but I will respond."
When asked if she would comply with the professional development plan requirement, Price said she must carefully consider the FGHC's conclusion before determining her next course of action.
"The FGHC now has an opportunity to interact with the chancellor before he issues his final decision," she said. "Given all of their hard work during the hearing and in writing the report, I am hopeful that they will attempt again to demonstrate to him the wisdom of their recommendations and convince him to change his planned course of action before he moves forward."