There is an enormous free speech controversy that is pitting an outspoken North Carolina faculty member against a public university administration. For once it isn’t me (so keep on reading liberals)! This controversy involves Jammie Price, a tenured sociology professor at Appalachian State University (ASU), who previously taught at UNC-Wilmington. The current controversy also involves porn so it should be a stimulating topic for my weekly political column (the liberals will surely keep reading now)!
Price has been placed on paid leave from the classroom after several students complained that she showed (allegedly without warning) a documentary about porn that actually featured people having sex. There are also student complaints that she accused the school of showing favoritism toward athletes (less controversial, I would think). Those statements are alleged to have been made in connection with sexual assault accusations against a couple of ASU athletes. Regrettably, the complaints about the athletic controversy have now coalesced into accusations of racism against Price. Jammie Price may be many things. But she certainly is no racist. I regret that race has become entangled in an otherwise interesting free speech controversy.
While I would defend Price against charges of racism, I would urge others to be cautious before they make Jammie Price a poster girl for academic freedom. Hundreds of professors have signed a petition on her behalf. But she has a history of showing poor judgment in the classroom. That history is certainly relevant to the current controversy. At times, she also has shown outward contempt for those who do not share her vision of utopia as involving limitless guilt-free sex for everyone.
Price arguably should have been suspended by UNCW back in March of 2003 when she cancelled all of her classes for an entire week in order to protest the Iraq War. Her unprofessionalism was compounded when she offered extra credit – but only to those who would join her in protesting the war. Predictably, a student complained and Price was reprimanded. She responded by correcting the problem. She organized an event for those who supported the war and gave students credit for participating. But the question remains: why did it take a student complaint for Price to understand the gross impropriety of her conduct?
Price is once again accused of using her class as a political platform. This is one of the many charges bundled together with showing pornography without warning and showing “racism” against student athletes. But this is a boring accusation. Sociology is an inherently political discipline, which is why it is generally regarded as a joke of a discipline. It is like political science without the science. If we were to fire Price for espousing politics in the classroom, we would have to fire 99% of the sociologists in America. Hey, wait, that could be a good thing! Could we look into that?
The far more important issue is whether Price was respectful of those who do not want to be exposed to graphic sexual content in the classroom. It is extremely difficult to apply the presumption of innocence to someone with such a poor track record for respecting others who have more conventional views of sexuality.
Around the time of my return to the church, I experienced Price’s arrogant judgmentalism firsthand. One of our few faculty members of faith was having relationship troubles when Price recommended to him – in public, mind you – that he “switch to bisexuality” in order to “double his chances” of finding a partner. I was sitting just to the left (physically, not ideologically) of the faculty member at the time. We both reacted visibly. When Price noticed I was taken aback by the remark, she responded predictably by calling me a “homophobe” in front of other professors.
One question in the current controversy is whether this is just another example of Price’s tired old “shock and condemn” tactic with regard to sexual morality. In other words, did she willingly shock the students with porn so she could later condemn them for drawing a moral judgment? This is an ingrained pattern of behavior that Price uses both inside and outside the classroom. Keep reading.
Over a decade ago, I got a complaint from one of Jammie Price’s students. It began with an off-campus incident that soon spilled over into Price’s classroom. It was all predictably orchestrated by Price in order to pass judgment on those who would dare to pass judgment (against her).
About a month before I received the student complaint, Price had foolishly shared a hotel room with another married professor while at a conference in San Francisco. When the travel receipts were turned in, the department secretaries figured out they had shared a room. False rumors of an affair began spreading.
Price decided to turn the incident into a teachable moment by sharing it with students. And that is the reason our mutual student came to me with the complaint. He considered the discussion unworthy of academic attention. I agreed. Then, I explained her “shock and condemn” teaching philosophy to him in simple terms:
1. Shock - Price shocks people with inappropriate comments and behavior. In this case, her sleeping arrangements with another married faculty member were a) disrespectful to both absent spouses and b) inappropriate for classroom discussion.I fear that the current controversy is just more of the same. Price probably derived a strange pleasure from seeing students recoil at the imagery in the porn documentary. But the real climax of the film was when she got to judge them for being so judgmental.
2. Condemn - Price condemns people for their predictable negative reactions to her disrespectful and inappropriate behavior.
Price is setting herself up as a poster girl for academic freedom. But in reality she isn’t standing up for anything. She’s just trying to build a utopian society that is nothing more than one protracted porn film. But in the final scene, the taxpayers are the only ones getting screwed.