The following is a guest post by Michael DeCesare, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminology at Merrimack College.
“Tenured Professor Is Placed on Leave After Showing a Film About Pornography” was one of the headlines screeching across the April 20 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. The case of that tenured professor, sociologist Jammie Price of Appalachian State University, is deeply disturbing.
In fact, the headline itself is troubling, since Dr. Price neither showed a “film about pornography” nor was “placed on leave” because she showed it. What she showed in her class was a widely used anti-pornography documentary–which was produced by the acclaimed Media Education Foundation and which Dr. Price borrowed from ASU’s library–called “The Price of Pleasure.” And Dr. Price was placed on leave, apparently, for a variety of reasons, according to ASU vice provost Anthony Gene Carey: she showed the documentary in her introductory sociology course; she “failed to warn students” about the content of the documentary; she disparaged student athletes; she talked about her personal life and political views in her classroom; she stated that she did not like working at ASU; and she criticized the ASU administration.
Seriously? Which one was it?
Keep in mind that a grand total of four students–that’s right, four–allegedly complained about Dr. Price’s “inappropriate speech and conduct in the classroom.” Four students. So what’s next? One–or two or three or four–of my students takes offense to pretty much anything I say, do, or show in my classroom and I’m placed on administrative leave? The only thing that’s more ridiculous than an entire case being built around four of Dr. Price’s students allegedly taking offense to her teaching is that ASU administrators decided to take action against her teaching. After all, ASU administrators can’t even seem to figure out what to charge Dr. Price with.
What’s perhaps most disturbing about this case is that ASU has denied Dr. Price a hearing on the grounds that she was placed on “administrative leave” rather than being put under “disciplinary suspension.” If she had faced the latter punishment, she would have been entitled to a hearing. To add insult to injury, Dr. Price has also been denied access to classrooms and offices in the College of Arts and Sciences; her keys were taken away from her and ASU has forbidden her to speak about the case to her colleagues or students.
ASU, of course, has not returned phone calls from the Chronicle or anyone else. University officials have also not responded to the AAUP’s recent letter to the chancellor, which criticized the university’s administration for not consulting a faculty committee before placing Dr. Price on leave.
Small wonder. ASU administrators are probably too busy trying to control the damage. After all, anyone can see that ASU vs. Dr. Jammie Price is an administrative lost cause.