Report highlights academic freedom issue

Report highlights academic freedom issue

Kevin Griffin

Though it has been a while since the controversy concerning the university’s handling of the case of sociology professor Jammie Price, the incident is still proving to be a mark on the university’s reputation, and rightfully so.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, has included Appalachian State University on its list of “The 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech: 2013.”

FIRE criticized the university for suspending Price for discussing “controversial but relevant subjects” in her class without a proper hearing.

“As a result, ASU has sent a clear message to its professors that their jobs are safe only so long as they don’t discuss controversial subjects in their classrooms,” FIRE’s report states.

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of truth to these claims.

Administrative handling of the Price case did violate the rights of the professor.

This finding was confirmed by the Faculty Grievance Hearing Committee, which found no basis within the Faculty Handbook for placing a professor on paid leave for purposes of an investigation, according to the Oct. 25, 2012 edition of The Appalachian.

Price’s right to due process was found to have been violated, and the university was criticized for problems with the investigation, including not obtaining written statements from two students whose complaints lead to the incident.

Chancellor Kenneth Peacock ultimately rejected the committee’s findings, according to the Nov. 21, 2012 edition of The Appalachian.

What the Price case illustrates is that, on the complaints of students, a faculty member at the university may put themselves in jeopardy by broaching certain topics.

This affects the quality of education at the university, because a big part of the process of learning is experiencing ideas that are often offensive and unsettling, but can nevertheless prove to be worthwhile and educational.

We need to understand this as adults and as students.

I cannot defend Price against some of the claims made about her, but some of them, including critically discussing athletes at the university and showing a documentary on pornography, are entirely defensible and fall well within the purview of sociology.

Since the incident, other professors have spoken of a chilling effect. Several professors altered the way they taught, including being more cautious and indirect out of concerns inspired by the Price case, the Carolina Free Press Reports.

The administration has stated it is bound to confidentiality by law and policy from specifically discussing Price as it is a personnel issue while also reiterating support for free speech on campus and alluding to protections designed to guard those rights.

However, the Price case shows this not to be the case.

The university has earned its way onto FIRE’s list by acting in a way that has hampered academic freedom and, at least to some degree, the way education is provided at the university.

Griffin, a sophomore journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.