Bell Tolls for Appalachian State Chancellor, Not the Liberty Bell!

By April 23, 2013

There’s an old saying FIRE recycles on occasion to mark the end of a university president’s tenure when that tenure has been marred by a disregard for campus free speech: The bell tolls for [insert name of president here]—not the Liberty Bell!

It’s been a long time since we dusted off that FIRE favorite, but the time is ripe to break it out again to commemorate the resignation of Appalachian State University Chancellor Kenneth Peacock (who will stay on until a successor is named). The academic freedom case of sociology professor Jammie Price explains why. As we’ve chronicled, Price was removed from teaching her introductory sociology course in March 2012 based on a series of remarks in which she allegedly criticized App State student athletes and the handling of sexual assault cases involving them, as well as for her in-class screening of a documentary that critically examined the adult film industry.

Price was suspended without a formal hearing. A highly flawed App State investigation found that Price had created a "hostile learning environment" with her classroom conduct and imposed an onerous "professional development plan" on Price that intruded on her academic freedom. App State’s handling of Price’s case has attracted significant media attention and criticism, including from its own faculty

Almost as discouraging as its treatment of Professor Price is how App State—with Chancellor Peacock leading the way—shrugged off the serious concerns raised by faculty. Not one but two faculty committees rebuked App State, finding serious violations of Price’s due process rights and improper application of its faculty leave policies in justifying Price’s suspension. In both cases, Peacock rejected the concerns of the faculty and pushed forward with Price’s unjust punishment. I urge Torch readers to read our most recent letter in Price’s case and our blog coverage to get the full picture.  

Price’s case doesn’t only raise concerns about free speech and academic freedom but also about the role of the faculty in shared governance as well. The demoralizing and chilling effects this has had at App State is impossible to ignore. As I’ve previously written, a faculty senate survey found that  

only 42 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that "the climate at ASU supports and promotes academic freedom." And 67 percent of faculty "who have worked at ASU for more than 5 years stated that they felt ‘worse’ or ‘much worse’ about their morale compared to 5 years ago."   

Furthermore, this March, App State’s Faculty Senate voted "no confidence" in two top App State administrators, including Provost Lori Stewart Gonzalez. Given the climate at App State, Chancellor Peacock may not have fared much better in such a vote.

Whoever takes the reins at App State will surely inherit the lingering questions and well-earned resentments App State brought upon itself in Price’s case. FIRE hopes that under App State’s next chancellor freedom will ring much louder. 

Schools: Appalachian State University Cases: Appalachian State University: Professor Suspended for Classroom Speech