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Academic Freedom vs. Adult Content

Academic Freedom vs. Adult Content

Teachers have academic rights but students do, too.

Elizabeth Hoyt

November 27, 2012

Freedom of speech is nothing new when it comes to controversy. Freedom of speech in academia? Been there, done that. Freedom of speech in academia claimed by a faculty member in order to defend the pornography she showed her class? Now we’re listening.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jammie Price, a professor of sociology at Appalachian State University, was suspended after showing a documentary about pornography in class with explicit sexual scenes that her students were less than prepared for.

Certainly, Price did have a right to discuss and use the documentary film for instructional purposes. It followed the curriculum in the sociology course and the film is, in fact, commonly viewed within sociology courses. This is agreed upon by the chancellor and the faculty committee assigned to review Price’s case.

The key mistake Price made was that she should have considered the rights of her students also. This would entail warning them about the graphic content the film contained rather than just pressing play.

Price, a tenured professor at the university, also failed to consider or be sensitive to the fact that some scenes may have been offensive to some of her students whereas a warning about the content could have eased or prevented the entire situation from exploding in such as dramatic way.

Though the film was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, Price had several other complaints on her record that were factored into her suspension decision. In addition to the pornography film complaint, Price received complaints regarding her comments about hostility towards school athletes along with school athletes receiving special privileges and sexual assault charges against school athletes–many of which came from the athletes themselves (who were later transferred to different courses so that they no longer had to deal with Price). Price maintains that she did not comment on all athletes, she just criticized a particular investigation.

Other complaints involving Price’s comments and discussions involving race, ethnicity and athletics involving higher education were on record as well. Price alleges that the students simply did not understand her comments, which were remarking on colleges pushing minority students into athletic programs rather than academics.

The other complaints, however, were mainly disregarded by the reviewing faculty’s findings. The report defended Price, saying that any discussion of race and ethnicity would likely hit home with many students and that allegations of Price being racist were completely false.

The report also found that, as a professor of sociology, Price had a right to discuss such issues, as they are all legitimate topics for any sociology course–even when the topic include criticism of the university.

As for the criticism of college athletes and their special privileges, the report defended Price again, saying that the athletes do, in fact, receive special privileges. The fact that they were transferred out of her course so as not to deal with her rather that sit down and discuss it (as she has originally requested) was a testament to that fact in and of itself.

Yes, more sensitivity could have been administered but, in the end, her faculty review committee consisting of her peers found that Price’s teachings were all legitimate and that the university had violated her academic freedom. In an interesting turn of events, the university’s chancellor disagreed with the findings and claimed the panel’s findings regarding the poor judgment in the way she chose to show the film to the students in her class was conflicting with the evidence shown.

Chancellor Kenneth E. Peacock announced he was rejecting the faculty review and ordered Price to undergo a two-year professional teaching development plan in addition to seeking prior approval of any video material used in her courses. Price believes she is being punished for exercising her free speech and, if she doesn’t comply, will risk dismissal from the university.

The chancellor has drawn his line in the sand, but Price ultimately believes her academic freedom and freedom of speech is being squandered. Whether or not her job is a price she’s willing to pay is yet to be seen.


Do you think Price’s punishment was fair? Why or why not?


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