Tenured Professor Is Placed on Leave After Showing a Film About Pornography

April 20, 2012

A tenured professor of sociology at Appalachian State University has been placed on administrative leave following complaints last month from four students about her "inappropriate speech and conduct in the classroom," including showing a movie about pornography.

Jammie Price, who has been a professor at Appalachian State for eight years, showed a well-known film called "The Price of Pleasure" in her introductory sociology course. The film, which she got from the university library, criticizes the porn industry and other businesses that make money off it.

According to a letter Ms. Price received last month from Anthony Gene Carey, vice provost for faculty affairs, Ms. Price failed to warn students that the material may be "objectionable or upsetting," and at least three students complained to administrators that the content was "really inappropriate," Mr. Carey wrote.

Another student complained to administrators that during another class meeting, Ms. Price had made "disparaging, inaccurate remarks about student athletes," said the letter from Mr. Carey. He also said Ms. Price had inappropriately talked about her personal life and her political views in the classroom and "repeatedly stated that you do not like working at Appalachian" and "criticized the university administration." In his letter, Mr. Carey said Ms. Price would be placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the university's Office of Equity, Diversity, and Compliance.

Ms. Price, who has hired a lawyer and filed a sex-discrimination complaint against the university with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, asked the administration for a hearing on the charges but was denied. Administrators told her that is because she is on administrative leave, not under disciplinary suspension. When the university placed her on leave, it told Ms. Price she could not enter any classrooms or offices in the College of Arts and Sciences and took away her keys. It also told her not to speak about the matter with any students or colleagues.

The American Association of University Professors wrote a letter to the university's chancellor this month, saying that, in Ms. Price's case, the consequences of the paid leave were the same as a suspension. It also said AAUP guidelines say professors should be suspended "only if immediate harm to the faculty member or others is threatened"—something it said wasn't evident in Ms. Price's case.

The association also criticized the university because, it said, it appeared the administration had not consulted with any faculty committee before placing Ms. Price on leave.

The university didn't return phone calls from The Chronicle seeking comment.

In a written response to Mr. Carey, Ms. Price said all the topics she covered in the course—including personal examples from her own life—were appropriate for an introductory sociology class. She said the movie on pornography included interviews with well-known scholars and is a legitimate teaching tool. "Part of the learning process for some students may be moving past the discomfort they feel when faced with core concepts in an introductory-level sociology class," she wrote. Ms. Price said the university placed her on administrative leave for covering subjects "pertinent to sociology." As such, she said, the university action "violates my rights to academic speech."

Ms. Price told The Chronicle she believes the administration is punishing her because she has spoken out about things on the campus, including what she describes as a male-only poker club that includes administrators and faculty members.

"Men in the poker club gain more power, privileges, and income than others on the campus, and protection from student charges," she said. "Since I started speaking out about this poker club, I have been bullied and harassed."