App State one of ‘The 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech’

App State one of ‘The 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech’

Chelsey Fisher

Appalachian State University was listed on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s list of “The 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech: 2013” for the handling of a professor’s appeal to the university Board of Trustees.

Appalachian received international attention after tenured sociology professor Jammie Price was placed on administrative leave March 16, 2012, following complaints from students claiming Price had caused a hostile environment in the classroom.

The students said Price strayed from her syllabus, criticized the university and university administration and showed a documentary about the effects of pornography, “The Price of Pleasure,” without warning, according to a May 3, 2012 article in The Appalachian.

Price was eventually reinstated under two years worth of conditions that included professional development with College of Arts and Sciences Dean Neva Specht, random peer reviews and a teaching adviser, according to a May 1, 2012 article in The Appalachian.

Price appealed all conditions, with no change from the university.

“We put together the list of schools that we put out this year based on incidents that have taken place on those campuses that have been going on last year, or that have been going on into at least roughly the last year or so,” said Peter Bonilla, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights and Defense Program.

Bonilla said the incident at Appalachian made it onto the list of the worst cases for free speech – published Dec. 23, 2013 – because of the “thoroughness and the severity of the threats to academic freedom and free speech” from Appalachian’s administration during the case.

“These kinds of threats and restrictions against academic freedom, especially when it comes to the teaching of controversial subject material, are something that we’re seeing happen increasingly often on campuses around the country,” he said, “and professor Price’s case is one of the more troubling examples of it that we have seen in recent years.”

Bonilla said one of the most significant aspects of Price’s case to FIRE was how the administration of Appalachian ignored the roles of faculty governments that they have in investigations such as this one.

“If the administration is able to ignore its faculty handbook and ignore the fundamental role that Appalachian State faculty have in setting policy at the university, the administration is able to sidestep all of that and rewrite the rules on the fly, it has a chance to be a serious threat to academic freedom and has potential to greatly chill expression by the faculty,” he said.

The Faculty Due Process Committee and the Faculty Grievance Hearing Committee criticized the administration’s decision to not overturn Price’s punishment, according to the report published by FIRE.

The Provost of Academic Affairs Lori Gonzalez released a statement that said the situation with Price is a personnel matter, therefore it cannot be discussed under UNC system regulations.

But, Gonzalez said in an email, the university works to protect academic freedom and free speech on campus.

“The university recognizes the importance of free speech, and the policies that protect it, for our faculty, staff, students and the academic enterprise,” she said in an email.

Price commented on FIRE’s decision to include Appalachian in the list of colleges for worst free speech based on her case, and said a situation like this should not happen again.

“Look at the policies that enabled this situation,” she said in an email. “Blaming an individual for a social problem is not the answer.”

Story: Chelsey Fisher, Chief Copy Editor and Michael Bragg, Editor-in-Chief